Tag Archives: Scots

“BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH”

One hundred years ago, on this day, March 15th, the “ides of March,” Czar Nicholas II of Russia, under pressure, abdicated, ending the dynasty that had ruled Russia since 1613.   The end result was not the liberal democracy that many hoped for, but, rather, seventy years of communism, a period far worse than anything under the czars. When the czar abdicated, nobody could have foreseen the ultimate outcome. The czar himself brought attention to the fact that the day was the “ides of March,” the day Julius Caesar was assassinated, changing the course of Roman history, ending the Roman Republic, replacing it with the Roman Empire.   The term became popular through Shakespeare’s famous play, “Julius Cesar.”

Today, March 15th, The Netherlands is voting for a new government. It’s the first time ever that Holland has received this much media attention.   Once again, an uncertain future awaits the country and the European Union; that is, if Geert Wilder’s ‘Party for Freedom’ makes significant gains and goes on to form a government.   Mr. Wilders has been labeled Holland’s Donald Trump.   He’s a populist, who wants to restore his country to what it was, ending the multiculturalism that has fundamentally changed the country.   In addition, he wants to leave the EU.   He also wants to ban the Koran and Islamic schools and has called for the closure of all mosques; and end the wearing of burqas and hijabs, requiring people to wear western style clothing.

The election result is likely to have a profound effect on France and Germany who hold elections later this year.   If a populist government comes to power in the Netherlands, then, maybe populism will see gains in the two biggest European countries, France and Germany.   This could make 2017 as significant a year as 1989 and 1848 in European history.   Change is in the air.   But, as with Russia a century ago, the future of change is unpredictable.   Sweeping populism may sweep away the European Union, but what will replace it?   Will liberal social democracy be replaced by more nationalistic forms of government?   Could a swing to the right in the Netherlands lead to similar swings elsewhere on the continent?   The European Union, which turns 60 in ten days, may have to go back to the drawing board.

It’s not just the election that is making news in Holland.   For over four centuries the Dutch, once a great maritime power, have had a peace treaty with Turkey.   But now, the two NATO members are going through a verbal conflict that could easily get out of hand.   The basic problem is immigration.   Millions of Turks live in Holland, Germany and other EU countries.   The Turkish president wants to send members of his government to speak to these Turkish citizens, so that they will vote for Mr, Erdogan in a referendum that will grant the president more powers.   Naturally, Holland does not want the Turkish election to be conducted in Holland.   Allowing Ankara to do so would expose the lie that Muslims are assimilated and are, in fact, Dutch.   They are not, identifying primarily with their own religion and culture, not with that of the host country.

A Turkish government minister was not allowed to address a rally in Holland.   Consequently, relations have been negatively affected.

The Netherlands isn’t the only European country that’s hitting the headlines internationally.   The United Kingdom is also in the news.

It’s taken nine months for the groundwork to be laid for Britain to activate Article 50 and apply to leave the European Union.   It’s been a rocky road, with members of Britain’s ruling elite doing everything possible to undermine the will of the people, expressed in June’s Brexit vote.    The unelected House of Lords was the final hurdle.

As if invoking Article 50 is not difficult enough, Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party picked the same time to demand another referendum.

This time, she believes the Scots will vote to leave the United Kingdom as the majority of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

In effect, what Ms. Sturgeon wants is to replace English domination with German domination.   Ignorant of history (except possibly watching “Braveheart” over and over again!), Ms. Sturgeon has no problem replacing London with Berlin.

When the UK completes its negotiations with the EU settling Brexit terms, Ms. Sturgeon’s Scotland will have to act quickly and apply to use the euro.  It will also need massive amounts of aid as Scotland has needed English financial support ever since it voted to join the union with England, over three centuries ago.

Scottish loyalists will have to get used to shopping with a new currency  – and won’t even be able to stay home and watch the BBC!

 

 

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ISTANBUL SUICIDE BOMBING

Turkey bomb

In my last post, I wrote about the fall of Constantinople.  In 1453 the city fell to the Muslim Turks and was soon renamed Istanbul.

This post begins with mention of Istanbul, one of the most interesting cities that I have ever visited.   Not only was it founded by Constantine the Great in 330, it was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, for a thousand years.

When you walk around the old part of the city, you are walking on 1700 years of history.

No wonder so many tourists visit Istanbul.  Ten of them were killed this morning, eight of them Germans, when an ISIS suicide bomber from Syria blew himself up.   In a statement, ISIS said there would be more and bigger bombs.  This was the fourth ISIS attack in Turkey in six months.

Whether or not ISIS was deliberately targeting Germans is not known.  The attack was deliberately perpetrated in the tourist area of the old city, close to the Blue Mosque and not far from the Hagia Sophia, a 1500-year-old church built by the Eastern Emperor Justinian in the sixth century.   The church has survived a number of earthquakes and the fall of Justinian’s Empire – whether it will survive ISIS remains to be seen. Turkey is likely to see many more terror attacks.

Germany is also likely to suffer at the hands of terrorists, made more probable by Chancellor Merkel’s “open door” policy to Syrian refugees.   One million refugees arrived last year.   Things are not going well.

On New Year’s Eve, about a thousand Middle Eastern and North African men descended on the area around Cologne Cathedral. During the course of the evening, dozens of German women were sexually assaulted and a few were raped.   It turns out that, contrary to claims that almost all the refugees were women and children, in fact 80% were young men!

This has naturally led to greater demands for the refugees to be deported.   A big demonstration in Leipzig yesterday got out of hand, adding to Chancellor Merkel’s woes.   With more refugees set to arrive, the problem is set to get worse.

Meanwhile, Germany is dealing with foreign policy challenges that threaten the coherence of the European Union, of which Germany was a founder member and is the biggest economy.

German Foreign Policy reports:  “High-ranking German politicians are calling for punitive measures against Poland.   The Polish government’s measures neutralizing the country’s constitutional court as well as its new media laws are “in violation of European values,” according to Volker Kauder, Chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group.    The EU member states must now “have the courage to impose sanctions.” “

With the above problems, there may be little time to give any attention to Britain’s campaign for changes to the EU Treaty that would alleviate some of the financial burdens on the UK from its EU membership.

A report in the Guardian newspaper yesterday claimed the EU would play “hardball” with London, as they have nothing to lose.   If the UK leaves the EU, it could face punitive measures that would make it harder for the country to trade with its European neighbors.

The same article also pointed out that the Scots are not as keen on leaving the EU as their southern neighbors in England.

A withdrawal from the EU may be a setback for the project of European unity, but it could also lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom.

HISTORIC ELECTION IN UK

British elections

Growing up, I always knew exactly when World War 2 ended.   It ended on my mother’s birthday, the 8th May.   On that day in 1945, she turned 19.   She was 13 when the war in Europe began. Her teenage years were lost to war!

If she had not said anything, I would still have a rough idea of when the war was fought and when it ended.   During my childhood, I played with friends on bomb- sites.   It took England some years to rebuild.

World War 2 wasn’t the only conflict I heard about.   My grandfather (my father’s stepfather) had been wounded in World War I and would show us the bullet wounds in his lower arm and wrist.

At least we knew that England had won both wars and that we were now safe from the threat of German conquest.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.   It ended with Germany’s surrender.

Seventy years later, Britain’s relationship with Europe is once again center stage in the UK General Election taking place today, May 7th.

There is more choice in this election than there has ever been.   There is also more uncertainty – nobody is willing to stick their neck out and predict the outcome.

What is clear is that there will have to be another coalition government, as neither of the two main parties will have enough seats in parliament to form a government.   The two main party leaders will spend Friday and maybe a few more days (or even weeks) haggling, while trying to put together a majority to form the next government.   (British politicians take note – it’s just taken seven weeks for Benyamin Netanyahu to put together a coalition government!)

The uncertainty of a hung parliament is one problem with this election.   There are two others that have graver implications.

One is that the unity of the kingdom is at stake.   Although the majority of Scots rejected independence in a referendum just a few months ago, the pro-independence Scottish National Party may hold the balance of power in a coalition government, thereby boosting their cause.

The other monumental matter is a possible referendum on leaving the European Union.   The Conservatives have promised this for 2017, but UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) wants it sooner.   If they enter a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives, the price they will demand will be a referendum by the end of the year.   This will make a “No” vote more likely as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe keep arriving and every one of them can vote.   By 2017 their votes would likely result in “yes.”

If England votes to leave the EU and the majority of Scots don’t, there will be a major constitutional crisis.   It’s likely such a scenario will cause the United Kingdom to fall apart.   The end result would be an independent England surrounded by not-so-friendly powers, all a part of a German dominated European superpower.   How ironic just seventy years after Great Britain and its allies defeated the Third Reich!

So, it’s an above average interest election this year, with repercussions beyond the UK’s borders.

 

UK TV ELECTION DEBATE

British election candidates

In case you haven’t noticed, the United Kingdom is in the middle of a general election campaign.   The election itself takes place on May 7th, which does not leave much time for campaigning.

On Thursday, the seven leaders of the seven major parties held a televised debate on national television.   The debate was two hours long.   I watched it on “BBC World News” where it was shown live. There was only one brief commercial break in the middle.

The parties clearly divide into right and left.   The three parties that are supportive of austerity are the ruling Conservatives led by David Cameron, the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, and UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) whose leader is Nigel Farage.   The Liberals are more in the center, but when it comes to spending, they believe in a balanced budget.

The ruling coalition since the last election in 2010 imposed austerity measures on the country, but has found it difficult not to overspend.

The other four parties represented are all to the left of the political spectrum.   All leaders were in favor of more spending on this or that and seemed to have no concept that all government spending is dependent on the success of the private sector, which they are inclined to want to clobber with more and more punitive taxes.   A favorite in the debate was a “mansion tax” on homes worth over two million British pounds ($3 million).   They do not realize that wealthy people have the option of moving to other EU member countries and can take their money with them.   They would also enjoy a better climate!

The four leftist parties are the Labour Party, led by Ed Miliband. To his left are Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales) and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party.   All four kept demanding more money for their pet projects.   Apart from the suggestion of a tax on mansions, the three ladies also insisted on defense cuts, notably that Britain not modernize Trident, its nuclear weapons system.

No commentator pointed out that the ladies’ demands would cost the English taxpayer more money.   Already, the English bankroll the Scots and the Welsh – and, together with Germany, the EU.   As Mr. Farage pointed out, the subsidy to the EU amounts to ten billion pounds per day ($15 bn).

This is one reason why Nigel Farage wants Britain to pull out of the EU.   He constantly focused on this one issue when answering questions.   The EU does not allow Britain to govern itself.   On immigration, for example, a major issue in the UK, London cannot do anything because of treaty obligations with the rest of Europe, which allow for the free movement of people.   The Germans are insistent that this remains the case, even though it costs the UK tax-payer a great deal of money.   Immigrants from the rest of the EU can claim British welfare benefits upon arrival in the country and can use the free health service.   They can even claim family allowances (a weekly child benefit) for children they left behind.

When Mr. Farage pointed out that last year 7,000 people were diagnosed as HIV positive and that 60% of these are foreigners, he added that each one will cost the taxpayer 25,000 pounds a year ($37,500).   Nicola Sturgeon came right back accusing him of being “heartless,” saying that his comment was “shameful.”   For this she received loud applause.   Yet the liberal “Independent” newspaper reveals in a poll that half the British people support him on this issue.

Ms. Sturgeon seems adept at spending other peoples’ money.   She reminded me of Margaret Thatcher’s famous dictum:  “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other peoples’ money.”   If any of these three ladies has a major role in the next coalition government, the country could follow Greece toward financial ruin.

Polls after the debate said that Nicola Sturgeon did best.   If her party wins a lot of parliamentary seats in Scotland, they could enter a coalition with Labour and spend to their heart’s content – or, at least, until they run out of other people’s money!

It’s difficult to imagine a right of center coalition that includes the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and UKIP.   It may happen.   But if David Cameron needs UKIP to get the 318 seats necessary to form a government, he will have to give Nigel Farage what he wants, which is a referendum on EU membership by the end of the year.

Everything is up for grabs – anything could happen at this point in time.   But the most likely outcome will be a return of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, which has ruled the country for the last five years.   Noticeable during the debate is that the two leaders of these parties did not seriously attack each other, allowing for a continued marriage of convenience after the election.

With this election, it can truly be said that Britain is at a crossroads.   Everything achieved over the last few years of austerity could easily be lost, throwing the economy into a downward spiral; relations with Europe are also at stake at a time when the continental nations that comprise the EU are drawing closer together, with Germany very much in the driving seat.