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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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Ramadan In a British Setting

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First published here for The Platform earlier this Ramadan.

Being a British Muslim in Ramadan can be an accommodating and amusing experience – and even more so with this year’s programming on Channel 4

I used to work at a prominent architectural practice in central London. Being the only Muslim, let alone the only non-white employee, I stood out for some of my ways and mannerisms, stemming of course from my faith. During office social outings I used to diligently stick to my loyal glass of orange juice, or Redbull if I was feeling adventurous, while my erstwhile colleagues indulged in their socially-acceptable libations – some extolling its many virtues when the intake was slightly above the norm.

Many of my colleagues at work found the concept of Ramadan to be novel and rather unusual. They struggled to reconcile the idea of abstaining from food and drink while working in the office and having to stay on top of one’s professional game. My closest work friend was a Scouser lad from the Wirral, with whom I once walked into a local Asda and saw not a single Asian employee, in stark contrast to the picture of all the brown-skinned employees I would see if I were to walk into any supermarket in London. Upon being asked if the chicken was halal, an English worker consulted his superiors and kindly replied saying “I am sorry sir, the chicken isn’t ‘halal-friendly’”. Naturally I was amused at the thought of chicken being halal-friendly, when it is either halal or it isn’t.

My colleagues were extremely considerate of my Ramadan routines, sometimes somewhat mortifyingly, as they would inconvenience themselves by trying to avoid eating and drinking when I was around. My boss then, a well-respected senior partner of the firm would facetiously ask if I was on “Ramadan Poppadom”, and then go to the extent of asking me to write about the experience of working during Ramadan for the office magazine. Such was the obliging nature of an office in the city where I was the sole fasting employee. I am sure mine is not the only such experience.

Most Brits are curious to know what Ramadan is and exhibit a genuine desire to learn more about it, particularly when it is from someone they already know. However, many prominent British media organs have made these ambassadors of Ramadan come across as extreme and unapproachable, so much so that the concept of Ramadan is lost to many people.

It is in this atmosphere that Channel 4 rather provocatively chose to state that they will be broadcasting the morning adhaan (call to prayer) which, upon hearing, Muslims must stop eating and drinking for the rest of the day till dusk.

This news has been received with a plethora of mixed reviews. Muslims in the UK, if they do not go to the local mosque to break their fast, typically rely on the internet for the times of the adhaan or have an adhaan clock which will have been localised to UK settings, or use the latest iPad or android app. Channel 4’s decision to broadcast the adhaan is a truly refreshing intervention by a British mainstream broadcaster that will help bring the concept and significance of Ramadan, and what it entails, to the broader British public.

There has also been widespread criticism and sensationalised headlines following Channel 4′s decision to broadcast the adhaan by the usual suspects. But then the question begs to be asked, who watches Channel 4 at 3am for the duration of the adhaan for 2-3 minutes if not British Muslims during Ramadan? Surely it is a rather insignificant societal matter if it will not be seen by mainstream Britain. Yet, at the time of writing, an online poll shows that over 66 per cent replied ‘No’ to the question ‘Is Channel 4 right to broadcast the call to prayer?’

This Ramadan, as with every Ramadan, Muslims will be especially conscious of their actions and will endeavour to act with particular respect and good conscience in manners relating to physical, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing. During the 30-day period of Ramadan, it is common practice for Muslims to attempt and complete reciting the entire Qur’an.

On the matter of diversity, the Qur’an states: “Oh mankind, We have created you from a male and female, and made you into races and tribes, so that you may identify one another. Surely the noblest of you in God’s sight is the one who is most pious” (Chapter 49, Verse 13). This is further reinforced by Prophet Muhammad’s last sermon where he said, “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black, nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action”.

Integration among communities is of the utmost importance, and one can confidently say that British Muslims do make conscious efforts to integrate into mainstream British society and contribute to the UK socially and economically. It is tragic that this still needs to be mentioned.

As David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband will no doubt emphasise in their Ramadan messages, charity is a core value of Ramadan and Muslims should contribute charity towards the wider community – for indeed justice and equality are not just Islamic values, but are values at the heart of British society too.

Image from here.

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Ed Miliband the Zionist?

Ed Miliband at LFP

Much speculation has been made of Ed Miliband, the man who many (myself included) feel will be the first Jewish Prime Minister of Britain.  Guido Falks tweeted an article from The Jewish Chronicle which says that Ed Miliband claims to be a Zionist. Let’s go through the exact words –

“I take anti-semitism very seriously. Any kind of de-legitimisation of Israel is something we should call out for what it is and not tolerate it. “I think the boycotts of Israel are totally wrong. We should have no tolerance for boycotts. I would say that to any trade union leaders.”

The Haaretz in it’s reports quite explicitly points out that when someone asked him if he was a Zionist, Ed replied – “Yes, I consider myself a supporter of Israel.” , however Ed was very careful not to say “Yes, I am a Zionist”.

Let’s be honest here, there is absolutely no way that Ed Miliband can become the next British Prime Minister if he antagonises the right wing pro-Israeli British media, let’s be honest about it, no if’s and but’s. If he takes an openly anti Israeli line the media is going to make sure that he will not be the next British PM and they will not rest until they do. If the British media was to somehow (as if by divine intervention) change their tune and become tacitly pro-Palestinian, then the Zionist lobby in the US will strain every sinew of its special relationship with London to ensure that Miliband does not become PM.

It was quite sad that the Stop The War Coalition with whom I side most of the time tweeted saying ‘Labour leader Ed Miliband establishes his pro-Israel credentials like never before & declares he’s a Zionist’. This I think is rather misleading, and at least the STWC should have been more considerate of whom they want to be friendly with.

About Ed Miliband, let’s establish a few home truths.

  • Ed Miliband was raised an atheist by his parents, his father was the radical Marxist intellectual Ralph Miliband and his mother Marion Kozac is a signatory for the founding statements of ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’.
  • Ed Miliband was elected leader largely due to the trade unions. Britains largest trade unions, UNITE and UNISON have both passed a motion to boycott goods from Israeli settlements.
  • In his very first speech as Labour leader, Miliband said this.
  • When Mossad used forged British Passports to carry out a failed assassination bid against a Hamas official in Dubai when his brother David Miliband was the foreign Secretary, there was very significant diplomatic friction between Israel and the UK.
  • Ed Miliband has been very openly attending events and supporting Labour Friends of Palestine, something neither of his New Labour predecessors did.

Compare and contrast Ed Miliband with Tony Blair and to a lesser extent Gordon Brown vis a vis the Israeli question and you’ll see that Miliband actually comes out uncontaminated by any Israeli links. Also, let’s not forget, contrary to what anyone might say, it was Miliband who took on the highly influential Israeli poodle that is Rupert Murdoch.

I don’t see how anything Miliband said yesterday can be spelled out as doom saying for the pro Palestinian activists. I think it is wise and indeed incumbent upon him to woo the Israeli lobby if there is any chance of him becoming PM.

It is only fair to him that he is judged on his record as PM, until then he deserves the respite.

Image from here.

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Parliament Jokes

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Don’t be fooled to think from the title that this post is about the cinematic rubbish that Ranjan Ramanayake stars in.

I wrote a post for The Platform titled ‘Parliamentary Debates: The Politics of Comedy’, this was a ranking of ten instances when humour has been utilised expertly to convey a point in the British Parliament. Sadly, such banter does not manifest itself that much in the Sri Lankan Parliament.

As Cerno outlines –

Sri Lankan Parliamentary rhetoric is far too contaminated with hate, absence of intellect, selfish hunger for power and most of all disrespect for another, to facilitate the smooth humorous intercourse of banter. The closest one of our parliamentarians would come would be from this gem by Mervyn Silva.

This is a post to shamelessly promote what I wrote for The Platform. Either way, I am sure readers will find the videos entertaining. I cannot speak for my writing.

Image from here.

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Tom Watson vs Andrew Neil

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I am actually very busy these days with quite a few things to get out of the way, but this twitter exchange between Andrew Neil of the BBC and Labour MP Tom Watson caught my eye.

It started with Andrew Neil tweeting the following :

This promptly got a response from Tom with the following –

And Andrew replied –

There is a validity in what Andrew says when he questions the effectiveness of the petition, I would have thought it may have been more prudent for Labour to influence the lodging of a government e-petition than promote the petition by Hacked Off. But perhaps the reply is in the following tweet –

Of course Tom Watson’s questioning of Andrew Neil is quite sound here despite the sarcasm, it can sometimes not feature in political discussions that Neil used to be editor of the Sunday Times and was appointed by Murdoch, a post he held for more than a decade.

Then –

And then –

And then former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott joined the party –

Image from here.

And John Prescott stayed in the party,

Both Tom and Andrew seem to have since deleted their tweets, well they aren’t appearing in my browser at least.

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Guess I am Back

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I am back to blogging is what I meant to say. For those of you who have been in this long enough I have been blogging here since May 2006. But over the last year I have been inundated with a lot of things and never really got the chance to blog properly for one reason or the other.

I am beginning to feel now that I may be able to sustain a practice of blogging, so here I am, back to blogging though I am walking into the cold water rather slowly, and on tiptoes – not that I that fear I will disturb anyone with too much noise, but you get the gist.

Unlike in my old blog, I will be blogging as myself and not as Aufidius. But my twitter is linked to this blog, so I will be keeping that alive. I am moving away from Blogger to WordPress for various reasons really, mostly because I prefer a fresh start and that WordPress is somehow more appealing than Blogger.

If you have been reading my blog or following me on twitter, you possibly know the kind of things I am likely to have an opinion about. So if it interests you, go on then – keep an eye open.

Those of you who have included my old blog in your blogroll, please change the link to the link of this blog – I am keeping the same old name, ‘Navigating on Balance’.

That’s that then, quite a few things to get out of the way, so I will be slightly more active in this blog after the 18th December.

Enjoy your 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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