Deep Impact

An old contact of mine spent years in local and central government. His mantra was that any single policy you introduced, no matter how clever in itself, always had an unforeseen consequence.

Every action has a counter reaction somewhere down the line. In politics, the rise of the SNP has denuded Labour of support and the unexpected beneficiaries are the Tories. In Glasgow a council move to remunerate lolly pop men for ‘dirty work’ like picking up litter has led to a strike by janitors who don’t get any extra for the same duties.

I suppose that’s my current beef about No voters too. With Tory governments in power, they were voting to retain the same and hand back Scotland’s ability to resist their impact, although, in that case, it was hardly an unforeseen consequence. You really did have to look the other way not to realise how a No result could be exploited. My torrent of Unionist abuse hasn’t contained one explanation or justification for this, just Meh…

Similarly, I’m wondering if any of the 53 per cent of white female voters who went for Trump are reconsidering that decision in the light of events. Did sensible people really watch this man perform, take in his messages and still happily opt for him? Accepting it wasn’t an easy decision to back Hillary – indeed the Democrats made an historic mistake there – would you really have placed them side by side and voted for the nutjob? If you had lost a job in an economic wasteland, I get it. It’s a chance to kick out hard and feel good. But what about those professionals, the career jockeys with something to lose, all those smart American women? What were they thinking?

Now the consequences are rippling through global politics from Iran to Buckingham Palace, the people are on the streets and anger is palpable.

At this point we should remember that across the red Republican states of continental America, Trump folk are celebrating. This is what they wanted. They don’t much care which one of those muslim countries you come from. They may not have heard of some of them. But they know that’s where the bad guys in Homeland come from and there’s only one way to stop them.

But when you check, the evidence is patchy. Of the 15 most deadly attacks in USA history, only one – 9/11 – was directly associated with Islam and the Middle East or the Gulf and not one of the 19 terrorists was from a proscribed country.

In 2016 a Somali muslim student resident in the US did attack Ohio State University injuring passers-by.

In the same year the killer of customers in a Florida gay bar was of Afghan descent but was born the America.

A year earlier the man who shot 14 dead at a Christmas party was of Pakistani descent but was also born in America. His killer wife was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi.

The Chattanooga navy recruitment shootings were carried out by a naturalised American citizen born in Kuwait.

And so it goes on…the more you look, the more the selection of countries look arbitrary. Some are questioning why countries where Trump does business are excluded – which takes us back to his business connections impacting on decision-making.

Yet the real threat to American lives comes not from outside the country at all but from within – often from the very heartland bases of Trump support. One estimate is that 30 per cent of all worldwide mass shootings occur in America with only five per cent of the population. Analysis identified 110 mass shootings in which at least four people were murdered with a firearm between January 2009 and July 2014 – at least 57% were related to domestic violence, not terrorism. On average, 93 Americans are killed by other Americans with firearms every day. Seven children or teenagers are shot dead every day.

If it’s safety and security Trump is after, he should be deporting Americans.

On which point, the boomerang effect of May’s desperate wooing of Trump is straight out of The Thick of It. No sooner does she promise him the full State Visit Hoo Hah than the Queen tells her to bugger off. At least that’s my interpretation of her former private secretary going public in the Times and on the BBC to say it should be stopped. Be in no doubt this is an intervention on behalf of the monarch who sees more clearly than her Prime Minister the pitfalls waiting to ambush her dignity.

Trump should be kept at arm’s length until his term in office settles down into something approaching normality. We need time to forget the horrors of his early days in power before something as triumphant as a State Visit is attempted. The Palace knows full well that the mass demonstrations that will accompany Trump will lasso her as well. (There is another issue here because the old gal is 90 and, republican that I am, I think she should be cocooned from controversy for her own wellbeing.)

The affair has also coincided with the meeting of the devolved administrations and the Prime Minister over their Brexit demands and unfortunately knocked it off top spot on the news. For us this is serious business although it seems for too many it hasn’t dawned yet. I think in her aloof way Theresa May is blundering from error to crisis having landed herself with a massive international and royal mess to clear up on the one hand and a rebellious celtic fringe on the other. Couldn’t she muster even a performance to demonstrate some warmth towards the other nations that make up three quarters of the United Kingdom? She must be inoculated against the impending consequences of her (in)actions if she think there will not be repercussions, unforeseen or otherwise.

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Degrees of Death

As regular readers I know, I got a few O levels and didn’t make it to university – it was much tougher in those days. So I don’t have a degree, not even an honorary one like that Jackie Bird. But I do know lots of academics and have come to value not just their intellectual contribution but the economic of impact of learning. It is ably described here in this worrying analysis on the implications of Brexit under this mad government by Colin Talbot, Professor of Government at Manchester Uni. It doesn’t mention Scotland specifically but I’m told this is a UK-wide phenomenon applicable here too. It first appeared in the LSE Brexit Blog and I’ve purloined it from Social Europe website. My thanks to them. Read and weep.


“The UK’s university sector is one of our most valuable national assets,” Prof Brian Cox, the University of Manchester academic and TV presenter, told me last week. He argued that UK higher education “is a genuinely global industry generating billions of pounds in export earnings, one of the necessary foundations of our innovation-led economy and perhaps our strongest soft power asset; political and industrial leaders from all over the world were educated here in the UK.”

Which makes it all the more strange that the government should be – whether accidentally or deliberately – undermining them. Most of the Brexit commentary about UK universities has concentrated on issues of funding, research cooperation and students. Much less attention has been paid to what keeps universities running – academic staff – and what Brexit will mean for the 30,000-plus EU academics in the UK.

I arrived at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and noticed one of my academic colleagues was visibly distressed.

When I asked what was wrong, they said they’d just had a very alarming letter from the Home Office. Having lived and worked here for more than two decades (they’re a national of another EU country) they decided to play it safe after the Brexit vote and apply for leave to remain. Big mistake.

They received a threatening letter from the Home Office saying they had no right to be here and they should “now make arrangements to leave”. The letter was obviously wrong – they had every right to be here under existing UK law – but that didn’t lessen the emotional impact for my colleague, whose whole future was suddenly thrown into uncertainty.

I had read similar stories in the press, and wondered how many other academics might be affected, so I turned to Twitter to ask for any similar experiences. The tweet I posted asking for examples was retweeted – mostly by concerned academics – over 1,000 times. People started writing to me with cases and I began digging into the issue.

The first thing that struck me was the level of fear, anger and disgust – and in some cases resignation. I have disguised individual cases – that’s because few people are willing to speak openly, such is the degree of fear about what might happen after Brexit.

The Impact On Individuals

Some EU academics (along with others) who have been living and working legally in the UK for years decided, after June 23, that they should try to cement their position by applying for one or other of the various routes to permanent residency. The procedures are daunting and of Kafkaesque complexity – one form runs to 85 pages and requires forms of proof that make acquiring Catholic sainthood look simple. As a result many applications are failing – but it is the form of the rejection that is causing much concern. A typical letter from the Home Office says (in part):

As you appear to have no alternative basis of stay in the United Kingdom you should now make arrangements to leave. If you fail to make a voluntary departure a separate decision may be made at a later date to enforce your removal…

This appears to be a fairly typical ‘prepare to leave’ letter, variations on which have been sent to “failed” applicants – even though they are currently here perfectly legally.

Even more worryingly, the decision on whether to accept or reject these applications is based on the “Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and Regulation 26 of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006”, to quote the letter again. The latter will be repealed in the Great Repeal Bill planned by the government, which could rescind any ‘right to remain’ granted under existing law and regulations.

Brian Cox sums up the situation very well when he told me:

We have spent decades – centuries arguably – building a welcoming and open atmosphere in our universities and, crucially, presenting that image to an increasingly competitive world. We’ve been spectacularly successful; many of the worlds finest researchers and teachers have made the UK their home, in good faith. A few careless words have already damaged our carefully cultivated international reputation, however. I know of few, if any, international academics, from within or outside the EU, who are more comfortable in our country now than they were pre-referendum. This is a recipe for disaster.

Another academic colleague said: “As an academic I’m embarrassed and ashamed of [the] UK governments’ stance on EU citizens.”

One academic told me: “the Home Office is hedging its bets because we non-UK [academics] are now effectively hostages …”. A neuroscientist from the EU at a top UK university reacted with defiance: “For what is worth, I refuse to apply for a piece of paper [leave to remain] that I don’t need and won’t be valid after Brexit – when current law says I don’t need it. It’s just a certificate. They can stick their 85-page form up their arses.”

The level of anxiety is obvious: “I’m about to submit my permanent residency application. Any pointers from the rejections you’ve seen so far? Scary times ahead…”. Another said: “as an Irish citizen I am assuming the Ireland Act will continue to provide my right to be here. But… “

A policy specialist from Oxford said “people have been turned down for administrative reasons alone. The Home Office looks for any reason to say ‘no’ at the moment.” Or as another, retired, academic puts it, this is just “inhuman bureaucracy” at work.

How representative is all this? A recent survey of academics conducted by YouGov for the University and College Union (UCU) found that an overwhelming majority (90%) said Brexit will have a negative impact on UK higher education. Three-quarters (76%) of non-UK EU academics said they were more likely to consider leaving UK higher education. A third (29%) said they already know of academics leaving the UK, and over two-fifths (44%) said they know of academics who have lost access to research funding as a direct result of Brexit.

The Impact On Universities

UK universities are heavily dependent on academics from the EU. To cater for our global audience we need to attract the brightest and best and Europe is, unsurprisingly, a major source for such talent. Over 31,000 UK university academics come from the EU – sixteen percent of the total (all figures calculated from the Higher Education Statistics Agency data for 2014/15).

But this national figure underestimates just how important EU academics are to our top-rated universities. The London School of Economics has 38% EU academic staff. Other prominent London colleges – Imperial, King’s, University College London – have between a quarter and nearly a third. Oxford has 24% and Cambridge 22%. My own university, Manchester has 18% and most of the Russell Group of ‘research universities’ are in the top ranks of EU academic staff employers.

EU academics are equally important in the core subject areas that are vital to our long-term economic health. So areas like physics (26%), chemical engineering (25%), biosciences (22%), chemistry (21%) and IT (20%) are all heavily reliant on European talent.

So What?

Our global status isn’t, of course, just dependent on EU academics – UK experts are our bedrock (70%) – but the other 30% that come from the EU and the rest of the world are an important part of our global status.

Losing this talent – whether through demoralisation or deliberate design – would have catastrophic effects. As Brian Cox puts it: “Ministers must consider our global reputation before uttering platitudinous sound-bites for domestic consumption, and think much more carefully about how to ensure that the UK remains the best place in the world to educate and to be educated. [UK Universities] are everything the government claims it wants our country to become; a model for a global future.”

“The current rhetoric is the absolute opposite of what is required. The UK appears, from outside, to be increasingly unwelcoming and backward looking”.” They should be even more careful about the policies they enact and the way they are implemented.

The Home Office’s at best clumsy and at worse malicious handling of residency claims is causing huge distress and damage to our reputation. I am already hearing cases of EU nationals leaving, or planning to leave, because of the uncertain and unwelcoming future they now face. One academic lawyer acquaintance has already moved. We don’t know how many EU academics we’ll lose now, or in the future as a result.”

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Dear Rupert

(This is how stupid they think we are. Amid the slurry of effluent arriving via email and Twitter after my recent rant was this oh-so-clever wind-up. So clever that the author enjoyed his joke too much and blew it. He (and I have his email address)  forgets I have form in this genre myself having made my very first blog an elaborate hoax about spying inside the BBC for Alex Salmond. My satire on being hired by the Daily Mail as a columnist made the Media Page in the Guardian. So, eat dirt, Rupert. You’re an amateur. Worth reprinting though to give the Yessers a laugh at your expense)


I love Scotland – Lived here for twelve years – great quality of life – kids went to great ( and affordable) schools in Edinburgh – before Cambridge (only slightly pissing me off as an Oxford chap).

Wife ‘does something in the Arts’. We have lots of likeminded friends in universities , banking, civil service etc. – we all love it here -great houses for the money – even in Edinburgh – though it kind of leaves most of stuck here, given London prices. And a lovely little Heilan Hame for the weekend and half-term.

I enjoy reading your copy Derek – better written than most of the native stuff – same chip though – usually worn lightly on just one shoulder. But this piece? What were you drinking ? – hope it was some of the whisky that keeps me and my chums’ share earnings up – we run that too.

If it weren’t for the likes of me and my mates up here – it would all grind to a halt. Most of the Alasdair and Fraser types here rub along with us well enough – they like to think of themselves as honorary Englishmen (and why disabuse them of that conceit?) – but Christ – you couldn’t let them work unsupervised.

As for the Glaswegians – and the rest of the wasted West – well let’s just say they keep professionals like me and my doctor and lawyer chums gainfully occupied.

Let’s just clarify matters. We run the universities, the government (whatever Nicola thinks), the banks, the arts, galleries, museums, hospitals, businesses (what’s left of them), the law (at least the important bits of it). We own the nicest (but mostly economically unproductive) bits of your lovely country – and of course we have, and always have done – run the country itself – or at least our chaps in London do. Oh- and of course – the indispensable BBC – but you know that better than most.

You had a chance to ‘change’ it (but don’t imagine an ‘Independent’ Scotland would have been independent – we’d still be running things).

But you blew it – granted with a little – ok a lot – of help from me and my friends – but in the end, when it gets down to it – you didn’t have the guts. Or somewhere in the depths of your souls – underneath the braggadocio, the maudlin sentimentality, and the whisky – you really, truly , and irrevocably knew you couldn’t hack it. And even if you had squeaked through – well, we’d still have been here running things. Did I mention – we’ve no where to go? But it did help that you kindly let us vote – us and whole heap of second home owners with better places down south. We also ran the referendum – and that helped too.

We are not going away. We are civilising missionaries bringing enlightenment to a backward – and often lovable -if ungrateful tribe.

You know deep in your hearts you need us – even if only to have someone to hate.

As I said – I love Scotland – we all do, me and my mates – and we will always be here for you.

Toodle Pip.

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The New World

The inhuman fiasco at American airports and the failure of a British Prime Minister to condemn it outright is another sign of how the governance of the UK is spiralling in unpredictable directions. Like it or not, Britain is now tied in the eyes of the world to the fantasy politics of Donald Trump having sent our national leader scurrying to Washington to curry favour while the more sanguine heads of European governments kept their distance.

While the world looks on aghast at the turmoil caused by banning designated muslims entry and instigated apparently on a whim to appease an anti-foreigner support base, Theresa May finds herself on the predicted horns of a dilemma – desperate to hold Trump’s hand in friendship yet pulled by public opinion to damn him.

Her cloying attachment to the manic president and the excruciating White House news conference they orchestrated, are ratcheted up to red by Brexit and the glaring gap that is emerging in the UK’s future trade. We would certainly have seen a British PM gasping for presidential attention but the imminent negotiating table clash with the EU has rushed her into undignified alliance.

That Scots, as UK citizens, are caught up in this cack-handed affair, is the latest side effect of the decision by Scots to throw in our lot with London for better or worse. The reality of remaining Better Together is being tied to a weakened British state casting around for new allies, forging friendships with a man who should best be watched carefully before being embraced followed by a defence sales deal with Europe’s most dictatorial and anti-democratic leader in Turkey.

We are disengaging from the world’s most influential grouping of civilised democratic nations – and its largest trading bloc – to enter a shark tank of hardline nationalists prepared to single out groups they deem unacceptable, disrupting families and business across the world. The leaders of American tech firms have condemned Trump’s entry ban as un-American saying it impacts directly on the talent they employ.

Those of us who followed the independence referendum will recall how insipient racism was brought to bear by the Unionist campaign by inferring the Scots’ relatives in England would become foreigners. It was never explained how a family member could be instructed to treat a loved one thus or how it was possible for a son in Australia with a different passport not still to be thought of as family. Indeed Margaret Curran told me in a BBC studio that her own people in Ireland would be foreigners to her – despite the British legislation which released Ireland from British control specifically saying no Irish citizen would be treated as a foreigner in the UK.

Here we see how the threads of belonging which bind society begin slowly to unravel when we fail to secure them. In a few short years Labour went from losing control of all immigration numbers because they didn’t take it seriously, to talking of Scots as foreigners, to British Jobs for British Workers, to the notorious Control Immigration mugs and now competing with UKIP for their racist votes. No wonder the Tory party feels relaxed about dealing with Trump when the opposition itself is halfway along the road with them.

I fear Labour’s failure to use leverage over the Brexit vote is another step towards the racist state. Not because that is Labour’s position – I believe Jeremy sees Brussels as a big business club – but once you start issuing visas and telling European academics and students they’re not wanted, you give a dog whistle to the extremists.

Whatever travails would have beset a newly-independent Scotland, being stuck with a budget-slashing right wing government ripping up our agreements with Brussels and discriminating against incomers wouldn’t be among them. I long for the rest of the world to know that Scotland is different.

Of course it’s pretty obvious from my bag of poisonous online mail that there are many Scots who prefer Theresa May crawling to Donald Trump than they do Nicola Sturgeon taking our place at the UN and the EU. They have so contorted themselves into a rictus of hatred over the rise and rise of the SNP that reason has deserted them. Which is why I have been cheekily asking about some people’s mental competence.

There is today global outrage and deep concern at the behaviour of Trump. Yet in my bag, I’m not sure one raging Unionist has raised his eyes to see it. There is no analysis of an almost opposition-free government. No assessment of the economic impact of Brexit on Scotland, despite a wealth of data. Whether I rant or write constructively the message is mostly the same – a football chant of hate slogans and the tired tope of Braveheart.

I have no idea what these people think of immigration or if they approve of the EU, if they’re ready for the Scottish Health Service to be plundered by American corporations, or are prepared to eat artificially grown beef, both of which are likely to stem from a May-Trump trade deal – if he hasn’t been impeached by then.

The worry has to be that there is a lost bloc of voters who will sign up to anything so long as it is against the SNP. And, in a way, that fits the approach of the British government whose mantra is always to concede as little as possible to stave off rebellion. Which is why many on the Yes side have always argued that it will be Unionism that brings about independence rather than Scottish nationalism. The obdurance and mendacity of London combined with the anti-Scottish subservient bile of a Unionist rump is driving change among thinking Scots. Linkage to a possibly deranged American president and the havoc of leaving the EU could be the final elements in the equation that produces the correct result.

I was cross and had a rant last week. But I also detected in the output of Macwhirter, McKenna and Tickell (check the Newsnet podcast) if not an anger, then a profound frustration pointing to a tipping point. That is, we are heading in one direction, as the late Tam Dalyell said, the slip roads are closing off. You an hear it in the words of former nationalist critics like Labour left-wing lawyer Mike Dailly who has joined the SNP and from Tom Morton, the broadcaster, who was virulently No in the indyref but has now converted to Yes.

The bitterness and bile from the Unionist fringes is I think, a symptom of fear. It is so angry because it has little left to fight with. Hardly ever do I hear justification of the Union, its merits, its contribution to Scottish life, peoples’ attraction to it or how it will cope with the confusion and uncertainties of the coming years. All that’s left is the acid aftertaste.

We can sit back and accept the humiliation of being Trump’s best friends and surrendering to his trade deal. We can trust in Theresa to extricate us from the EU. Or we can become the state we want to be.

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An Old Git Writes

Sorry about that. Just had to get the above post out of the system. Sometimes there’s only so much you can take without blowing a gasket. And I find the breathtaking mendacity of the British over the entrenchment of powers to be nauseating. Although not all surprising, so it’s the apparent connivance of those who whistle merrily while this is done to us that attract my ire.

I mean, they must know it by now, don’t you think? It must have hit many of them like a sledgehammer even just the morning after the indyref when Cameron spat back at them with his ‘This is all about England’. Now the very basis on which many voted No is shredded in front of us – by the government’s own lawyer, confirmed by the courts. You were lied to, Scots. And there’s isn’t a hint of atonement. On the contrary, there’s what the BBC reports as ‘relief’ in government that Scotland’s parliament won’t have to be consulted or have a vote before we are pulled out of Europe against our expressed wish. Allowing us a say would, we are told, have been a nightmare for ministers. Oh, dear. Sorry to be a nuisance. This, in the Family of Nations, the Union of Equals. They inserted weasel words to wriggle out of their commitment. And they are happy and proud to get away with it. (There are no words for the MSP drones who thought this was a ‘victory.’)

And, as my fury suggested, while I acknowledge the unprincipled duplicity of Tories, I struggle to comprehend why anyone resident in Scotland would accept such treatment.

But there we are. That’s our country and that’s our people. And to those who make the claim that one possibility is excluding non-Scots from voting – in order to exclude English incomers more likely to vote No – I say that’s going backwards. The whole point about our vision for Scotland is inclusion and fairness within a democratic state. If you live here, you’re one of us. Apart from all kinds of ethnicity checks and social division that would flow from it, it is a contradiction of what my nationalism stands for. On an entirely different point, the anecdotal evidence is that English arrivals are a hugely positive influence on everything from shops and services to transport and business. Many a spot in rural Scotland is enlivened by the enterprise of English cousins. They deserve both a vote like everybody else and to their own opinions. It is perfectly understandable that they retain ties to England and the UK. I just hope they’ve begun fraying recently. And anyway my mum was English. So there.

I hope those same folk who are attracted by low house prices, decent services and a good environment realise that it is devolution from London that has delivered a lot of that in the first place. So they can have faith in Scots to run our own affairs.

(There are others I hear who buy a house for elderly relatives and dump them knowing that personal care is free in Scotland. Cheers!)

You do wonder at the relationship we now have with England and the sovereign government when they are actively seeking not to debate with us. Even if you accept the legal point that we are sub division of a state and the courts decide we’re not legally entitled to formal engagement on a matter of state, is it unreasonable to think they might consult us anyway? You know, show some decency, a touch a democratic sentiment, a friendly wish to make sure they understand our position before proceeding…If it were you dealing with another person, wouldn’t you take seriously your responsibility to do the right thing by someone to whom you owe loyalty or respect? It’s just such a miserable, mean, dismissive approach from what look and sound to me increasingly like bigots and bullies.

But, you know, you can put aside all this constitutional stuff and forget all about Scotland and self-government and still feel mad. Underlying all of these issues is something much bigger and more obscene. It is the theft of youth.

Not only are mostly older Scots, in my view, ruining a modern, European future for our children by keeping Scotland within the iron grip of a blatantly scornful and small-minded kleptocracy, but all across the European nations a generation of the well-off is systematically denying to the next the very advantages they themselves enjoyed.

The great advances in social mobility came about from left-leaning governments in the post war years putting in place free health care, a welfare safety net, cradle-to-grave education, free access to university – with living grants – international exchanges to aid cooperation, taxation regimes that spread wealth more evenly and gave life chances beyond most peoples’ imaginations when the war ended.

Today, in a world we have choked with poisons on land and water and a planet haemorrhaging under climate acceleration, we are closing off those options and strangling the chances of the young. We have, outside Scotland at least, lumped them with lifetime mortgages for their education, devalued their degrees, abandoned steady employment and liveable pensions while embedding increases and benefits for the elderly. We have bequeathed them erratic, serf labour, low incomes, no savings, with impossible hurdles into the housing market cutting off their chance to accumulate moderate wealth. They are surrounded by institutional hostility. We tell them in all we do that we don’t love them.

As a generation we behave to our youth as a British Tory government acts towards Scotland. We lord it over them. We take their future for our short-term gain. We remain intransigent when we could bend to smooth a path for them. Brexit will hurt our young people. Many fewer will experience the thrill of borderless travel and international friendship, or shared qualifications and overseas employment. The endless possibilities of a revived Scotland built on renewables and shaping an economy for our own needs remains blocked off by a dying generation that has elevated selfishness to the highest form of politics.

Will they go to their grave slavering about good old Britain or will their last act – metaphorically at least – be to free our children from ageist tyranny and bequeath them a real future?

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