Tag Archives: england

Independence Referendum: The Morning After

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First published here.

A win for independence in Scotland would have led to drastic changes to parliament in the UK including the short-to-medium term irrelevance of Labour

A little over half of those who went to bed last Thursday in Scotland, wondering what Friday will hold, woke up to the news that the United Kingdom will remain as it has been for 307 years and that Scotland will not break away to form an independent state. The campaign has been marred by allegations of scaremongering, increased verbosity of the establishment, heated debates on fiscal matters and devolution.

Irrespective of the outcome, it must be concluded that the Scottish referendum was a great celebration of democracy with extremely high turn-outs for voting. Estimates suggest that more than 80 per cent of those eligible to vote turned up for voting, compared to only more than 50 per cent who voted in the Scottish elections of 1999 when powers were first devolved.

The decision to hold a Scottish referendum was made in October 2012, by allowing the Scottish parliament to hold a referendum that was legally valid to confer independence. The terms of the referendum were a matter of great debate, but as George Eaton identifies here, contrary to most observers, it was Alex Salmond in his political astuteness who outmanoeuvred David Cameron – who, according to many, is reflective of a political class that was extremely complacent about the aspirations of the Scottish peoples. There are at least three factors Eaton identifies that helped Salmond outplay Cameron.

Westminster retains the constitutional authority to determine when a referendum can be held, and even though the initial date was September 2013, this date was moved to September 2014 in return for Salmond deciding to allow a one question vote, thereby winning another year’s worth of vital campaigning time for the Yes side of the debate. The second move Salmond made was in determining the wording of the referendum question. By managing to stave off pressure from the recommendation of the electoral commission to have the question read “Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?” having it read instead as “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, Salmond found a much easier way of channelling nationalist energy towards an eventual yes vote. The other vital concession Salmond managed to garner was the right for 16-17 year olds to vote in the referendum, even though voters in this age group do not vote in UK or Scottish parliamentary elections. Young voters are more inclined to vote for independence, as this YouGov poll reveals.

The complacency of the Better Together campaign, headed by Alistair Darling, was evident from the very beginning with Westminster taking for granted that Scotland would vote to remain in the UK. This notion was not without basis, as the opinion polls consistently showed that those in favour of voting No outflanked those in favour of voting yes by a double-digit margin. Then came the disastrous second debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, where Salmond vociferously and passionately argued about the case for independence, managing to appeal to many of those who were dithering on which way to go. Even though the debate wasn’t the primary reason, it was probably the last straw on the camel’s back. The double-digit lead that the No campaign had held for so long eviscerated over a matter of weeks and panic hit the No camp when aYouGov poll on 6 September showed the Yes camp to be in the lead for the first time.

The panic that set in was probably good for the Yes camp and was just the bad news that was needed to galvanise the whole of Westminster together. All three leaders of the main parties went on a very strong door-to-door campaign, even to the extent of cancelling Prime Minister’s Questions last Wednesday. Further powers of devolution were promised to the Scottish parliament and last ditch attempts were made to make packages of political appeasement that would swing the momentum from the Yes, back to the No.

It is also worth mentioning here that there were many voters who, indeed, wanted to stay in the union and vote no to independence, but due to the deep involvement of the toxic establishment and their support for the No camp, many of these conscious No voters were deterred. Right-wing media organisations, the BBC, big corporations and banks all fought vehemently against independence and this galvanised many voters to look at this vote as a statement screaming of anti-establishmentarianism. It must be mentioned however, that Rupert Murdoch, that great icon of the establishment is an avid fan of Alex Salmond.

It is also important to note as Owen Jones does here, that the same establishment that put its weight behind the No campaign will, similarly, be taking part in the alleged scaremongering tactics against Ed Miliband and the Labour campaign come the General Election in 2015. Labour, which was complicit at worst and connived at best with these tactics, will have to know that some of their friends in the No campaign will be some of their worst enemies in a matter of a few months.

In all of this, one thing that is glaringly evident is the second coming of Gordon Brown. Brought up by a father who was a Church of Scotland pastor, Gordon Brown is also the author of Courage, a compilation of eight biographies of those who have shown resolve and courage during times of difficulty. Sadly for many on the left of the spectrum, Brown got lost in Tony Blair’s New Labour, and many wonder what would have become of Labour if Brown inherited John Smith’s leadership of the Labour party as he was touted to, instead of Tony Blair.

It is widely thought that this passionate speech by Gordon Brown, on the last day of campaigning tipped the undecideds (about 14 per cent at most times) in favour of voting no and that it was this momentum that helped carry the No camp along.

What would have happened if the Yes camp had won?

The No camp won, and all is well. But what may have happened if it went the other way? David Cameron had made it clear that he would not resign if Scotland decided to vote in favour of independence, and indeed he would not be constitutionally obliged to resign.

I am of the opinion that New Labour’s advent in 1997, which led to the negligence of the welfare of the working class and, therefore, the erosion of Scottish Labour – which gave rise to an otherwise emasculated Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish parliamentary elections that followed – is more to blame. Those who wield the knife out to Cameron as the prime minister who potentially oversaw the end of a 307-year-old union should have a memory that stretches far beyond 2010 when he became prime minister.

If Scotland had voted in favour of independence, there would have been a Tory backbench revolt that may have culminated in Cameron resigning. This would mean that Theresa May or George Osborne would have most likely become Tory leader, unless William Hague would have been recalled as a caretaker leader to steady a wobbly Tory ship. What is less spoken of is that Scottish independence may have also ended Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions, if not delay them. Of course, this uncertainty in the Tory camp would translate into voter discomfort and Labour would have solidified its current lead to land Ed Miliband in Downing Street.

However, if Scotland legislatively moved out of the United Kingdom in 2016, it would have nullified the mandate of Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies. Going by the current electoral standings, Labour would lose more than 40 MPs in Scotland, whereas the Tories would lose their one MP (as the joke goes – there are more pandas in Edinburgh than there are Tory MPs in Scotland). Thus, with such a colossal haemorrhage of MPs to independence, Ed Miliband would no longer be the leader with the largest party, and parliament would have to be dissolved, and General Elections will have to be recalled. When this happens, the Tories will romp home to what most analysts believe will be a clear majority, coupled by the fact that Labour will be electorally and arithmetically much weaker without the legal recognition of Labour in Scotland. As such, Labour will be transformed into a mere ideological sister party and the Labour coffers will be much weaker than the Tory funding to refight in a general election. It must be noted that this current electoral status quo remains only due to the currently incumbent culture of hung parliaments.

The Tories would then have proceeded to change electoral boundaries to suit them and that would cast Labour into the wilderness until it found inroads back into the mainstream.

Thus, should Scotland have become independent, we may have been looking at an increasingly right-wing England in the medium to long term.

What happens now?

Scotland has however voted against independence, and the speculations made above will not come to fruition, yet. Therefore, political life in the union will go on as it has been for the last three centuries.

However, the three party leaders have to make sure they do not renege upon the promises made to give increased powers to the Scottish parliament. Tory MPs are already preparing to revolt if greater devolution packages are showered upon Scotland. In his speech on Friday, Alex Salmond referred to the fact that Scotland isn’t independent “yet”, leaving room to speculate that if Westminster breaks its promise for greater devolution in Scotland, the SNP may perhaps take the route Quebec took when there were successive referenda that plagued Canadian politics in the mid-to-late 1990s.

As a friend of mine specialising in constitutional law noted, “This may have been a defeat for secession but it was definitely a victory for self-determination,” and the Scots as a people should be proud of this.

Image from here.

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Lankan Muslims in London and Political Myopia

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First Published for Groundviews and the Colombo Telegraph.

There was a protest that took place yesterday by a group of Sri Lankan Muslims in Britain outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London mostly regarding the spate of anti Muslim activities that have been occurring in Sri Lanka. But in this instance what the group responsible for yesterday’s protest sought to achieve is unclear, what is pointedly obvious is the blatant incongruence between what they did and what they thought its influence would be. The very premise of having any such protest is not just questionable, but can create a cycle of many political unknowns. There are significant issues that the Muslim community in Sri Lanka currently faces, their plight is most depressing and worrying, as I have highlighted here. But knee jerk reactions to or exploitation of a genuine plight to gain isolated political mileage is not the prudent way to operate.

As any other Lankan Muslim Londoner, I am as familiar with the Sri Lankan Muslim Diaspora, the numerical minority and the politically weakest of the three Sri Lankan ethnic Diaspora groups in London. And it beggars belief as to what would have led to the said group deciding to protest outside the Sri Lankan High Commission in London. I argued here a few years back that there is a significant structural disconnect between some parts of the strategies of the British Tamil Diaspora and the genuine needs of the Sri Lankan Tamil people whose plight we must all sympathise with. If this trend isn’t stymied and nipped in the bud, there is a very fair chance that the Lankan Muslim Diaspora in Britain would suffer the same fate and alienation that sections of the Tamil Diaspora have suffered. This would not just result in loss of authority and negotiating power (which for the Muslims in London is currently hardly existent anyway) but would indeed cause damage to the Lankan Muslims in Sri Lanka, the very Muslims that they claim to represent.

Protest is certainly a beacon of democracy that needs to be put into good use, I am not doctrinally against the principle of protesting outside embassies, indeed I was amongst those who marched to the Israeli embassy in London off Kensington High Street on a cold spring morning in 2010 when the Marvi Marmara and the Gaza flotilla were attacked.

The role of the Diaspora is extremely important, the monetary and intellectual power they hold, not to mention the electoral influence they have upon their elected representatives in British electorates can be used to good effect. But the fundamental matter that has to be understood, which sections of the global Tamil Diaspora failed miserably in understanding, is that the whims, strategies and the dictates of the Diaspora must never supersede the needs and political intonations of the local peoples they claim to represent, in this instance the Sri Lankan Muslim community living in Sri Lanka, which to the overwhelming vast majority is still very much the parent community. If there was a coordinated effort by the Sri Lankan Muslims on the ground and the Lankan British Muslim Diaspora and the protest was a reconciled act by both parties, then that could have been lauded. But on this occasion, such is not the case and this was indeed repudiated very wisely by the National Shura Council, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka in this statement and thisvideo statement by NM Ameen.

In the case of the Tamils there were flagrant issues of racism and ethnic violence with the connivance of the then Sri Lankan Government that resulted in the deaths, humiliation and damages to property in the riots of 1983, not to mention the serious known and unknown figures of Tamil civilian casualties towards the end of the war in 2009. But Muslims in Sri Lanka have not faced such a situation and such a situation can be avoided only by political and social prudency. Of course it is without a shadow of doubt that the Bodu Bala Sena and Buddhist extremists in general running amok against Muslims and other minority groups, in their coordinated attacks, have powerful figures sympathetic to their actions, this is evident in how law enforcement authorities watch impotently as the monks behave in such brazen vulgarity, but unlike in 1983 where large swathes of Sinhalese got involved in the violence, the actions of the BBS are not widely appreciated by the Sinhalese community at large and it must be stated that the actions are indeed carried out by a group of rebel monks and not necessarily Sinhalese lay embittered by the Muslims they around them. It also needs to be mentioned that the reactions of the Sinhalese towards other minorities, particularly the Tamils was in the context of an ongoing ethnic conflict. Not that the former is excusable, but the actions of the BBS and others of similar ilk are executed when the country is not in a state of emergency, at least based on ground realities. Again, it must be stressed that this is not a condemnation of protest, nor am I a flag bearer for this government that has allowed lawlessness to reach such giddy heights, but it is the timing and astuteness of this exercise that has to be reflected upon.

Strategically it laughable to expect that this is going to make the Sri Lankan Government look towards the local Muslims with renewed respect and concern, indeed the danger is that the opposite of that could be true. What is also amusing is to look in bewilderment as to the extent of the power parts of the Sri Lankan British Muslim community perceives it wields. Furthermore, with due appreciation of the fact that Lankan Muslims settling in London took place in smaller numbers and very much after Tamils and Sinhalese established themselves there, the Lankan Muslim Diaspora in Britain is quite backward compared to the other two groups in many social standard indices. Not to in any way sound elitist, but a look at our educational standards, the percentage of us who are above the British average household income, and the percentage of us whose social movements aren’t influenced by the insularity of our own community in reference to the Sinhalese and Tamils are indices that should be taken seriously if an honest discussion and measure on political influence and power is to be gauged. It must be noted that, to borrow a computing phrase, this is a zoomed out view of the three communities, when you zoom in there are indeed Lankan British Muslim families and thereby pockets of social circles who can and should exert influence on the political centre in Colombo.

Politically, the problem with trying to fly so high too young is that you expose yourself to predators who can significantly curtail your growth and development. If the actions of the Diaspora results in further damage to the political standing of Muslims in Sri Lanka, not only should they shoulder the blame but as we Muslims say in private amongst ourselves, they are answerable to Allah if in case their motives weren’t purified.

It is not my place to question the integrity or sincerity of the intentions of those behind this exercise and I certainly will not, on the contrary I am sure they acted in the way they best saw fit. But as someone who relates to the British Lankan Muslim community as much as one who does to the Sri Lankan Muslim community in Sri Lanka, and with the conscious understanding that the social threats to Muslims in Sri Lankan far outweigh those of the former, the political maturity of this act has to be interrogated.

Rather, the Lankan British Muslim community should have built coalitions with their Sinhalese and Tamil counterparts, and acted towards a holistic national cause questioning the damages caused by lawlessness, the cancer that is corruption, nepotism, cronyism and political suppression of minorities in general. This may come across as political first principles, but for a Diaspora community only just establishing itself politically, these matters need to be borne in mind. Working with Sinhalese and Tamil Diaspora groups in London, I can say with a certain degree of authority that Muslim representation in the upper echelons of collective Lankan British Diaspora has room for improvement, of course this is from the interactions I have had and another may have a different tale. I am conscious that there are frictions in building coalitions and that this is easier said than done. But in the same way that the local Muslims will best further their political agenda when they work in tandem with the Sinhalese and Tamil communities, to bring to account probably what is the most corrupt and unpatriotic government in post Independence history, the Lankan British Muslims will best achieve even a scintilla of success only when they work together with the others. They risk being politically burned out far too early if they do not, and that will be to the detriment of the collective Muslim political cause as a whole, Lankan Muslim Diaspora groups have a lot of potential to power Muslims in Colombo and that potential has to be used with responsibility, or as elders in the Muslim community would say, consider it an amaanah.

The localised context has to be understood first before ramifications of protests are to be made in London. The connection between the parent community and the diaspora has to give birth to an understanding as to how this matter should have been approached. The actions of the Tamil Diaspora vis a vis local Tamils would prove to be a good case study, the mileage they gained, the sound calls they made and the errors they committed. Having already had a precedent of another Diaspora of an oppressed community and how they negotiated political upheavals makes it easier for the Muslim community in that they can avoid much of the trial and error that the Tamils inevitably had to engage in, and therefore mistakes once done by another community can be averted. There is a risk that actions of the Muslim Diaspora can adversely impact the local Muslims and that must absolutely be understood.

This is a significant error of judgement on the part of sections of the Lankan British Muslim community in London and I am both thankful and relieved by the political astuteness of the Sri Lankan Muslim civil society groups based in Sri Lanka who have swiftly distanced themselves from this sad manifestation of political myopia.

Image from here.

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Of Boats, Reflections and Water

As I have mentioned here, I am making a conscious effort to blog more often. Many things have kept me occupied, however I should have more time on my hands after the 19th. Hopefully I will be blogging a lot. These are two images I took in Chester. I quite like the way they have come out, hope you like them too!

For those of you don’t know I started a facebook photography page a few months ago, I have not given it much publicity – in fact this is the first time I am mentioning it in any blog of mine. If you like my photographs, do like it here! Ninety Nine people have ‘liked’ it thus far, you may be the hundredth! Thank you.

Have a great week!

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Upon England's Mountains Green

A couple of weeks ago I went to The Peak District on a camping trip with my good friend Kevin and another friend Shae. I saw the lush green of England displayed at its absolute best!

I will post more images of our trips over that weekend. This picture for some reason reminds me of this hymn, and it makes me miss the trip more than ever!

Have a great weekend!

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Of Royal Weddings and War crimes

Last Friday was the Royal Wedding, that of Prince William and Kate Middleton of Britain. No, this is not another post about the Royal Wedding, I am sure you have had enough of it already.

Anyway, I went to Buckingham Palace with some friends on the day of the Wedding, I was not necessarily interested in the occasion, but I did go for photographic purposes. Does that qualify as having been part of the Wedding proceedings from a ‘commoner’s point of view ? yes it does, I was about 10 meters away from the balcony that the newly married couple kissed – except that they kissed in the morning and I was there with thousands of others at about six o’ clock in the evening. Still, there was a lot of pomp and pageantry, I can only imagine how it would have been in the morning.

As I said, this post is not about the Royal Wedding.

This week has been about the Royal Wedding, the blood bath in Syria, Nato attacks in Libya and the release of the UN SG Panel report on alleged War Crimes in Sri Lanka.

The War crimes allegations in Sri Lanka are serious indeed, very serious. The atrocities allegedly committed by the LTTE and the GoSL are extremely heinous and painful to fathom. Those accused if guilty must be brought to justice and penalised as deemed fit.

This post is not about war crimes in Sri Lanka either, that too has got a lot of attention.

I watched Democracy Now the other day and Johann Hari, a British Journalist who writes to the Independent was hosted on the programme.

He went on to expose such atrocious war crimes committed during the time of the British Imperial empire that it overshadows many of the war crimes that the West peeks into. (Imperial)Britain though not as nosy as the USA and with a better human rights record, has committed a significant amount of War crimes that need to be discussed if a future sans such heinous acts can even be contemplated.

Don’t get me wrong, I have lived and studied in Britain for the good part of five years now, I have never had tertiary education outside Britain, and after Sri Lanka I love Britain the most, and after Sri Lankans there are no peoples in the world I love more than the British. Some of my closest friends are British, regular readers may have read this post here. This is not an emotional rant either.

But a spade has to be called a spade.

Of war crimes and atrocities, this is true – the order and instructions for war crimes come from a negligible fraction of a population at the upper end of the political hierarchy and for this, the whole nation should not be held to account.

The British people should not be held directly accountable for the war crimes committed in their name by their leaders. This applies to any people, the people of imperial powers such as America, France, Italy, or people of developing nations such as Sri Lanka or the countries in the Middle East for that matter.

One may argue that an order for a war crime to be carried out cannot come from the top without the connivance of the people that elected them. This is also true, but the instances where a whole populace disapproves of the war crimes committed by their leaders far outnumber the instances where a whole populace approves of the war crimes committed by their leaders.

Again, there is another twist. There are instances where imperial powers committed war crimes, but importantly that has almost always been against peoples of other nations. Not to suggest that this somehow dilutes the crime. But war crimes against one’s own people is a far greater crime indeed. We have seen that in history again and again, and I fear we may not have seen the last of that phenomena.

I have posted the video above where Johann Hari very eloquently discusses war crimes committed by the British Imperial empire where millions of people died, including the British instigated famine in India in the late 1800’s where more than twenty million people died. Well worth a watch.

On that sombre note, have a great week everyone!

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Shepherd's Bush

First of all, apologies for being so reticent in this blog. Have been held up with a lot of things. Now that summer is approaching and due to the super weather we have been having in otherwise wet England, I did manage to go out a bit and take some photographs.

My regular followers may have seen my other photos of the London Underground. Here are two of my favourite photographs.

Taken at Shepherd’s Bush station, London.


A woman watches as the train leaves the platform.


A train departs as the other stays on the platform.


Train arrives.


Shepherd’s bush Station

In other news, I am now on Tumblr. Follow me here.

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Royal Albert Hall, London

Royal Albert Hall

For those of you who don’t know, “The Royal Albert Hall is an arts venue situated in the Knightsbridge area of the City of Westminster, London, England, best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts since 1941.”

Photos taken on a leisurely night stroll in Kensington and Chelsea. Both images were taken from Kensington Gardens looking out.

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