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Merry Christmas

Edinburgh Christmas fair

24 December 2017 · Comment

Blue Room

The Exiting the EU Committee yesterday published 39 “Sectoral Reports” (not 57, or 58, or eleventy-three), selectively redacted for our reading pleasure.

Looking at my own sector of Higher Education, the key page of the relevant report is p. 12, “Sector views: This information was provided by the Government to the Committee, but the Committee has decided not to publish this section”. The rest compiles 2015/16 statistics on EU staff and students and HE funding. Page 9 notes that the “latest figures on education exports (2014), show that EU HE students contribute £2.6 billion per year to the UK economy”—a mere 7.43 Brexit-bus-weeks per year. In other words, they bring in about 25% of the actual net cost to the UK of our annual EU membership.

Rather than leading with the public release of these wholly inadequate sector “reports”, the main Brexit story on the Today programme this morning was blue passports. I hadn’t realised just how long the UK has had burgundy passports; they were introduced in 1988, almost thirty years ago. How emblematic of this whole farrago: UK society and the UK economy ripped apart for the sake of aging voters’ nostalgia for things from a generation ago. Let’s bring back flares and paisley while we’re at it. Or let’s just give them their pointless symbolism, and keep what really matters. Here’s the referendum we should have had:

Blue passports

Read More · 22 December 2017 · Comment

Happy Brexmas to All, and to Britain Good Night

I’ve just posted a new thread on Brexit to Metafilter, which rounds up some of the links shared here in recent weeks, plus a few new ones. Here it is.

Read More · 21 December 2017 · Comment

Non-Stop Brexit Cabaret

Some Brexit-related links I haven’t already bundled into recent posts.

Read More · 9 December 2017 · Comment

Fazed One

The UK media are reporting the news of yesterday’s Brexit “breakthrough” as if progress is being made, when the story of this week should be that we couldn’t trust May and her government to organise a piss-up in a Members’ Lounge, let alone negotiate all of our futures. They’ve just papered over the inherent contradictions of the border issue so that progress can be seen to be made, not actually made. You can’t have no checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic and no checks between Northern Ireland and mainland UK while maintaining that a hard border exists between the UK and the EU. This accepts freedom of movement by default; in which case, what on earth is the point of maintaining that the UK needs to leave the single market and customs union?

Unless... the plan is to restrict freedom of movement by requiring identity checks within the UK of anyone “foreign” whenever suspicion arises that they aren’t in the UK legitimately. That would certainly be in keeping with May’s track record as Home Secretary and PM. So, if you look or sound “different”: papers, please. So much for EU27 citizens (or any other immigrants, or children of immigrants) now being able to feel secure here. Whether or not companies feel that this “breakthrough” gives them enough reason to pause their Brexit contingency plans, I doubt it will cause most affected individuals to do so.

Read More · 9 December 2017 · Comment

Have You, in Fact, Got Any Cheese Here at All?

In an extraordinary moment in a week full of them, it became clear yesterday that Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis has been bluffing on Brexit, and that the 58 (or 57, or 50–60) impact assessments he has alluded to for months, and which were requested by Parliament six weeks ago, do not, in fact, exist.

Read More · 7 December 2017 · 1 Comment

Turner Reprise

Given how willing Britain’s MPs seem to be to burn down their country through their own indecisiveness and blinkered attachment to the past, it’s no surprise that they’re willing to risk the same fate for their workplace.

Read More · 1 December 2017 · Comment

A Mandate for Damn All

Let’s leave aside, for one moment, the questions around the legitimacy of the Leave referendum victory, the phony promise of £350m a week for the NHS, interference from dodgy foreign billionaires and Russia, and the fact that the referendum as enacted by Parliament was explicitly advisory and that it was only the Cameron government who said that a leave result would be implemented. Focus instead on the fact that a 48% vote for the status quo plus a tiny share of the Leave vote would deliver a mandate for maintaining the status quo on almost any Brexit-related issue.

Read More · 27 November 2017 · Comment

Someone Left the Cake Out in the Rain

Almost everything that Brexiters say now, in the circumstance of having chosen to leave, makes much more sense as a response to being forced to leave. ... Instead of the generosity, confidence, patience and optimism that might be expected to accompany victory what we see amongst Brexiters is an oscillation between sour, crabby, resentful anger and bellicose, belligerent, defiant anger. That anger seems, if anything, to grow with each passing week.

Read More · 24 November 2017 · Comment

Treasure

The past bleak few weeks have been improved by the return of Mackenzie Crook’s Detectorists, possibly the most perfect piece of television of the last decade. This charming, witty, beautifully shot series about hobbyists, archaeology and village life is also one of the most profound portraits of friendships and relationships, of many kinds, that I’ve ever seen on TV, all captured in a string of half hours that glitter like gold coins on a field.

Having watched it from the start, I was looking forward to a third series, although with some apprehension about whether the high standard could be maintained. Three episodes in, it’s already clear that series three will take the show out on a high note, as Crook spins his small-scale dramas into a story that connects to so much more about England and its place in the world.

That, sad to say, is one of the bittersweet aspects of watching Detectorists series three. The rapturous trance has been shaken, if not broken, by events since its 2015 Christmas special. Watching it now, you can’t help wondering which of the resolutely English residents of Danebury voted Leave. Terry, almost certainly. Sheila, probably. Lance?

I’d rather remember them, and rural England, as unsullied by 2016 and 2017. But there’s no escaping the times we find ourselves in, and in the face of Brexit, Detectorists remains some of the best escapism going. For one and a half more hours.

Series 3 will be the last. Mackenzie Crook interviewed. Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones interviewed. “When people find it and realise what is, they hold it close to them.”

23 November 2017 · 2 Comments

Movement at the Nation

A line in an article on EU citizens’ rights prompted me to do some calculations that I hadn’t before.

Read More · 21 November 2017 · Comment

Brexitide

It’s a strange atmosphere in Britain right now. All of the Christmas adverts have started appearing on telly, which ordinarily signal the start of a period where we don’t have to worry about anything too politically serious happening. But that period is a critical one this year. The chances of an exit from Brexit before the end of 2017 diminish by the day, as everyone gets into a Christmassy, “let’s hit the mince pies and mulled wine” mood; but if we’re still in limbo by early 2018, hundreds of companies, and thousands of individuals, will start implementing their contingency plans, and things will get very bad very quickly, long before 29 March 2019.

Read More · 21 November 2017 · Comment

Brutalism

As an Edinburgh southsider who hasn’t ventured down Leith Walk for a while, I’d only seen glimpses of the St James Centre demolition site, so it was quite something to walk past it yesterday, on my way into work after dropping the car off at an auto-electrician. I snapped this quick panorama on my phone (click for bigger).

St James Centre demolition site, Edinburgh, November 2017

Five districts of Edinburgh changed beyond recognition.

16 November 2017 · Comment

Over the Cliff We Go

Brexit talk has been in full swing again this month, and it’s been hard to keep up with the fast-moving indecision surrounding such a dynamic, intractably stalled process. I’ve posted a couple of thoughts to Mefi in recent weeks, excerpted below, and have been collecting links...

Read More · 28 October 2017 · Comment

UKIP, Hide Your Lion Eyes

UKIP have revealed their new logo (or, more accurately, the favourite of two options yet to be decided) to immediate derision. The letters reminded me of quite a different animal...

Read More · 29 September 2017 · Comment

Cliffhanger

If you’re chained to someone bigger running towards a cliff edge, you yell at them to stop, you don’t say “they’re the majority”. When you’re already feeling the effects of their mad dash for the edge, you don’t presume jumping will make things any better. You certainly don’t want to jump to prove a point about what a disaster jumping will be. It won’t help much if you survive the fall, you’ll still end up a mangled mess.

If you actually liked the firm ground you were on, talk of new horizons at the bottom of the cliff is no reassurance, especially when you’ve just spent years climbing from the bottom of the cliff to the top. If you can’t stop them from jumping, you at least want a hang glider for a soft landing, or to circle back to firm ground, because once they jump, they’re going to discover that neither of you can fly—while claiming that you haven’t been flapping your arms hard enough, and that both of your imminent deaths are your fault.

A Twitter experiment.

6 September 2017 · Comment

The Lost and the Spurious

The horrible news of Grenfell Tower makes any talk about politics seem frivolous, although it’s clear that the disaster was itself a product of political failures, but I wanted to post a couple of my comments from MetaFilter on the ongoing self-inflicted disaster of Brexit before events overtake them. After taking a bad hit with the declaration of Article 50, my own personal reckoning of the chances of Brexit ever happening is being revised positively (as in, it won’t) with every passing day.

Read More · 15 June 2017 · Comment

The Pavement Biplane

“A popular and healthful exercise is furnished by a new toy which has taken the British boy by storm...”

Scooters

1 · 2 · 3 · 4 · 5

Mouseover to see more pages and the cover of this 1921 volume spotted in an East Lothian country house.

11 June 2017 · Comment

Looks Like it’s Fears

After waking to such hopeful news this morning of Tory losses, the awful realisation dawns that they will be governing with the support of a far-right party: if anything, a worse outcome than an outright Tory victory. “Sure, you can have your Dementia Tax and human rights restrictions, as long as we get to keep our homophobia and anti-abortionism.”

Maybe we’ll get a softer Brexit out of it, but who knows? The DUP heartland was the pro-Leave part of Northern Ireland.

9 June 2017 · 2 Comments

Looks Like it’s Hope

Never have I been happier for my preemptive pessimism to be proven wrong.

Newcastle-under-Lyme was the scene of much drama yesterday when hundreds of newly-registered students were turned away at polling stations; they persisted and eventually got to vote later in the day, and Labour has won the seat by 30 votes.

The big story of this election has been the return of young voters, which is fantastic news. Now all the parties will have to start paying attention to them again. Seems that having your future stolen in an unnecessary referendum has a galvanising effect.

Even though a Tory minority government with DUP support seems the most likely outcome right now, the Tories have been directly responsible for putting the Good Friday agreement and therefore the future of Northern Ireland within the UK at risk, by calling the EU referendum and by doubling down on a hard Brexit. Even if the DUP are natural Tory allies, that must complicate the negotiations. Owen Jones wrote of the DUP in 2015: “The idea of these bigoted throwbacks to several centuries ago holding the balance of power should surely frighten even moderate Tories, let alone the rest of us.”

For anyone feeling confused about Scotland’s swing to the Tories: it was always unlikely that the SNP could hold its 2015 win of 97% of Scottish seats. Under first-past-the-post, the Tories can beat a divided anti-Tory vote, and so they have done in a dozen seats. But they’re still under-represented relative to their vote share in Scotland—and Labour even more so—just as they were in 2015. As disappointing as it is to think that Scotland’s Tory gains could help prop up a Conservative minority government, it isn’t some sort of Scottish betrayal of progressive Britain; the Scottish vote remains 70%+ anti-Tory.

9 June 2017 · Comment

Hopes and Fears

I couldn’t vote this morning as I usually try to, and have had a vague dread all day of being hit by a bus before I can get to the polling station this evening.

Despite my bitterness over the line Jeremy Corbyn has taken over Brexit, and being convinced in the early weeks that we’re doomed, I’ve found myself caught up in hope borne out of recent opinion polls and my Twitter bubble that he, and the decent Labour policies he brings with him, might get over the line, or over enough of a line to form a minority government, or something, anything. Anything other than the bumbling, evasive, heartless, smug authoritarianism of Theresa May and her party, which promises to ramp the past seven years up into an exponential curve of awful.

But we’re probably doomed.

Here are some links I’ve been neglecting to post here in the interim.

Read More · 8 June 2017 · Comment

Your Consumer Rights

Spring into summer with this sunny offer from Theresa May! Just click below to indicate which human right you would like to relinquish, and you’ll be in the running for 1000 Nectar points or a £20 Amazon gift voucher. Renounce three rights and you’ll get 2000 Nectar points or £40 at Amazon. Sign away all your rights and be in the running for a holiday for four in Florida! Offer expires 8 June 2017.

[ ] Right to life
[ ] No torture
[ ] No slavery
[ ] Right to liberty
[ ] Right to a fair trial
[ ] No retroactive criminalisation
[ ] Right to privacy
[ ] Freedom of thought
[ ] Freedom of expression
[ ] Freedom of assembly
[ ] Right to marry and establish a family
[ ] No discrimination
[ ] All rights in the European Convention on Human Rights*

*Exchange the full ECHR for a holiday for a family of four to Orlando, Florida, with two-day passes to Walt Disney World® Resort. Also included are 4 nights accommodation on a room-only basis in an Orlando hotel, return flights from the UK and 4 days economy car hire up to the value of £200.

7 June 2017 · Comment

No Leg to Stand On

Now, everybody, I understand that not all of you want to chop off your legs, but the fact remains that 52% of the British people voted to chop off our legs, and although many of those were deceived by the Leg Amputation for Victory party, we in the Remain Standing party need to respect the result, even if it means chopping off our legs. So, as you know, I as leader instructed our MPs to support the government’s plan to go ahead and schedule the operation to chop off everyone’s legs, under threat of chopping off their party support, and we will be running in this election on a platform of strategic non-obstruction of the LeAVers’ plan for mass amputation.

As it happens, our own party once included chopping off everyone’s legs in our 1983 manifesto, and even if you may have found your legs intermittently useful in the 34 years since, especially those who were yourselves too young to walk in the 1980s, I think you’ll agree that it’s important to remain true to our original Remain Standing principles, especially when some of our more elderly members remain stuck in 1983. True, they may have no need for legs themselves, as many are now in wheelchairs, but they still have hands and can still fill in ballot papers. I myself am ambivalent about legs, which strike me as a prop to the middle class and its obsession with low-cost travel. I know that many of you are still attached to them, but trust me, on 30 March 2019 you won’t be.

Instead, I and our party will be focussing on the real issue in this campaign, which is the government’s outrageous track record of breaking poor people’s arms, and their plans to operate on our back doors via the back door.

21 April 2017 · Comment

General Dejection

So much for fixed-term parliaments. Under a first-past-the-post election with badly divided anti-Tory forces, it’s hard to see how we’ll end up with anything other than more Conservative MPs, a devastated Labour Party, and a supposed mandate for the toughest, hardest, reddest-whitest-and-bluest Brexit, which has to be why May called it three years early. That, and sidestepping some unwelcome by-elections.

The thought of a general election
Fills Remainers with abject dejection,
As Brexiteers glory
In thoughts of a Tory
Supremacy, free from correction.

Read More · 19 April 2017 · 1 Comment

In Through the Out Door

Hate crime rises across London.

The struggle to be British.

Immigration controls’ consequences for freedom.

Europe’s child-refugee crisis.

Ken Clarke: “I’ve never seen anything as mad or chaotic as this.”

John Major: “That was an historic mistake.”

Ireland’s Brexit meltdown.

Theresa May’s empty Brexit promises.

The US billionaire waging war on the media. How he backed Brexit.

Arron Banks: “Brexit was a war. We won.”

Are you angry yet?

10 April 2017 · Comment

Escaped Lion

Read More · 29 March 2017 · Comment

Here’s a panorama of the Dazzle Ship in Leith by Ciara Phillips, which didn’t quite fit in my recent gallery. Click for bigger.

Dazzle Ship by Ciara Phillips

16 March 2017 · Comment

Fisheye Castle

Edinburgh Castle, 6 March 2016

Stitching together a panorama can produce strange effects. This fisheye view of Edinburgh Castle was actually a series of shots, taken from nearby Castle Terrace eleven months ago.

9 February 2017 · Comment

Standing in the English Rain

Owen Jones and Nick Clegg discuss Brexit. Nationalism and Brexit. A full English Brexit is on the menu. Whether you’re leave or remain, Theresa May just betrayed you. We clearly don’t understand sovereignty. Brexiters are destroying this country.

As an Australian who’s lived in Britain for over fifteen years, I’ve naturally kept an eye on GBP-AUD exchange rates. Here’s the rate on this day in 2007: £1 = A$2.48. In 2011 it was A$1.60. In 2016, after clawing back from the credit crunch: A$2.07. Today it’s back at A$1.63.

Tell me again, o Leavers and media, how the referendum result has had no economic impact. (And I wish everyone would stop saying that Brexit has had no impact. Brexit still hasn’t happened yet. Heaven help us if it does.) Here’s something I wrote in October, which remains (ha) bitterly relevant.

Apparently, Brexit means Brexit:
For Prime Minister May, Britain’s exit
From Europe is certain.
May May end up hurtin’
Our future? I reckon this wrecks it.

19 January 2017 · Comment

An English Summer

Here’s another gallery for Detail, based on a folder of holiday snaps I’ve been meaning to turn into one for years: a few days of an English summer in Yorkshire and Lincoln.

17 January 2017 · Comment

Panoramas III

Time to start adding galleries again to Detail, with a third collection of panoramas from the past few years of camping trips, mini-breaks and outings around Scotland. I have some international ones in the wings as well.

16 January 2017 · Comment

←UK Culture in 2016