The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “Scotland”

Europe: why I’m voting IN

As a lifelong Euro-sceptic it pains me to say this, but come June 23rd I’ll be voting to stay IN the EU.  I was just two years too young to vote in the referendum in 1975, and I recall my dismay at both being unable to vote and the result.  And now I have to make a decision on how to vote, not on what I knew was right then, but on what is right for our country now. And there are many factors to consider.

The economics

I have always known that exiting the EU would lead to a period of economic turmoil as new trade agreements were negotiated and bedded in.  It’s not within the gift of the OUT campaigners to reassure me otherwise, and generally they try to dodge this question.  They point to Norway and Switzerland who have both remained outside the EU but negotiated trade agreements: the IN campaigners point out that those trade agreements are not exactly favourable and Norway at least has said we would be better staying in.  Few people talk of our Commonwealth partners any more. Either way, nobody can really know how easy or difficult it will be, or how long it will really take, to negotiate and build new trading relationships around the world.  But I was always willing to take that risk on the basis that things would eventually settle down. What I know this time around is that I do not trust our current government to have the economic understanding, nor the ability, desire or willingness to understand the needs of the common people, to undertake those negotiations in the best interests of the majority of the population. Austerity, privatisation and selling off the family silver in an ideologically driven laissez faire of economics has left many in a perilous state without any social safety net.  And based on how long it has just taken David Cameron to negotiate a watered down version of what he wanted as a condition for staying in the EU, I don’t hold out much hope for more complex negotiations.  And all of this in a world economic climate where another financial crash is imminently predicted.

Impact on society

Our country is in a highly weakened state.  Our NHS is falling apart at the seams, burdened by insufficient funding to meet the debt repayments of PFI’s (Private Finance Initiatives), the consequence of which is that even more of it is being piecemeal privatised under the provision of the Health & Social Care Act 2012. This is not in the interest of the welfare of the majority of the population.

The mortality rate is rising, particularly among our most vulnerable members of society – the old, the sick, the disabled – as they are finding that health and social care services are no longer available (care packages for vulnerable elderly leaving hospital after a major operation are no longer available in the area where I live – they either have to stay in hospital or pay for private care).  Our social housing is being privatised, with, for the first time since the 1960’s (and the incentive for the now classic film Cathy Come Home), some 50% of people in rented accommodation living in insecure private sector tenancies, while new rules will mean council tenants will be losing their right to lifelong tenancies. The so-called bedroom tax and caps to housing benefits are driving working families out of our cities, breaking up communities and families in the process. The rise in home ownership has stalled and is also dropping for the first time in 60 years.  Today’s young generation will, once again, be ‘generation rent’.

Private companies, such as Virgin Care, are taking over more and more parts of our children’s services.  Independent fostering agencies struggle with keeping costs down but provide an essential proportion of our foster care services.  Elderly care and children’s residential care services have long gone to the private sector.

The problem with privatisation is that it costs more to run services as profits have to be made to cover extra layers of costs in the roles of different companies and their shareholders, and fragmentation of hierarchies means it is impossible to readily identify and correct problems before they have catastrophic implications (as highlighted by Margaret Heffernan in her book Wilful Blindness).  I have seen this personally in the privatisation of social housing and fostering services.  The poor and the taxpayer pay the cost.

The news media is full of stories of the worsening plight of the disabled as they are being pushed into ‘proving’ they cannot work, sometimes even in the face of a diagnosis of a lifelong degenerative condition such as Parkinson’s, and even those quite literally on their deathbeds.  And yet still the present government wants to cut benefits for the working poor and disabled.  As long ago as January 2014 the British government was criticised by Europe for providing too low a rate of Welfare Benefits – things have only got worse since.

Access to legal aid and justice in the courts has been curtailed for the poor by the removal of financial assistance to seek justice.  Court costs to be paid upfront in tribunal cases discourages or even bars many working people from seeking justice in employment law.  The introduction of JobCentre advisers into foodbanks is an indicator of just how mainstream this charity service has become.

I don’t need to read the reports of an unprecedented rise in foodbanks to know how vital these services have become – in my own area, with a population of c.150,000 there are six foodbanks operating that I personally know of; there may be more.  Foodbanks are legally only allowed to provide tinned and packet goods and long term dependency on them does not leave much scope for healthy eating (in conflict with government targets to get us to eat more healthily).

This is all the result of the policies of our current Conservative government.  There are only two possible brakes that can be put on their continuing with these and even harsher policies – the House of Lords (who are limited by the powers of the House of Commons itself and the threat of being inundated with government sympathisers) and the EU (who have become increasingly alarmed at the impact of Conservative policies).

Scottish Independence

It was clear during the relatively recent Scottish independence referendum that Scotland wanted to remain in the EU.  A split UK vote, with Scottish voters voting to stay in the EU and English voters voting to leave would undoubtedly prompt calls for another Scottish Independence referendum.  The complexities of negotiating their own membership separate from the UK was probably a significant factor in voting choices for a number of Scottish voters.  If the UK has voted to exit the EU then a further Scottish referendum could well produce a different result.  This will cause further chaos as English, Welsh and Northern Irish links with Scotland are untangled alongside the even more complex untangling of UK legislation from EU legislation.

Wars and international relations

No-one can truly predict the future, but one of the OUT arguments is that with Turkey wanting to join the EU and Turkey and Russia on opposing sides in the complex Syrian / ISIS conflict, we, as members of the EU would be drawn into a ware with Russia.  That could happen anyway through NATO.  The OUT campaign talk zenophobically of closing our borders to refugees and asylum seekers, which will not put us on good terms with our European neighbours and does little to accept the reality of the fact that Western interference is what has caused the current crisis (killing despotic leaders thus creating a vacuum to be filled by even more despotic terrorists).  Becoming Little Englanders will not make these problems go away.

Tomorrow’s generation

Finally, what do today’s young people want?  Anyone under 40 has grown up only knowing Britain as part of the EU.  Younger generations are more likely to identify as European.  This is a part of their identity.  Typically, those in their late teens and twenties are the least likely to vote, yet they will be the most affected by this decision.  It’s an old (American) Indian position for the elders to make decisions based on the needs of future generations.


There will be talk of fear and safety versus forging a new brave way ahead.  The latter will feed into the sense of Britishness that has been our history.  But now is not the time to do it.



Scottish Independence, English identity and World reputations

I originally blogged back in February about the Scottish Independence vote – it was hardly making the news back then, today it’s all over the front pages as Alex Salmond has pushed the Yes campaign up the polls.  Way more issues have come to the fore in recent days, most notably some disagreements with Alex Salmond’s assumptions and beliefs.  He says he can use Sterling, UK Parliament says he cannot.  He says there’s tons of oil revenues for them to benefit from.  Oil companies and organisations say there isn’t.  He says Scotland will continue to be part of Europe.  Europe says they will have to apply as a newly independent country and meet all the joining criteria (including adopting the Euro as currency).  Banks and big businesses have started to say they will pull their big offices out of Scotland if it gains independence – even the Royal Bank of Scotland.  The Financial Times has also stepped off the fence in favour of the No vote.  The Queen is keeping schtum but clearly there will be ramifications for the Royal family if Scotland gains independence.  And so it goes on.

Alex Salmond has conducted an emotional campaign reminiscent of cries of Scotland the Brave.  The Yes campaign has clearly failed in its application of logic and in the dying days before the vote is ramping up the emotionalism.  The question for Scottish voters is which politician or group of politicians do you believe – Westminster or Salmond.  Personally I don’t trust the lot of them.  I wish them luck in fielding the conflicting information and coming up with the right decision.

In the meantime, below is my original post on the impact of Scottish separation on individual identity.

The Meandering Social Worker

UK GB diagram by CGP GreyShould Scotland vote to secure Independence from Great Britain and the United Kingdom in September 2014?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron thinks not. As reported by MSN news: In a speech at the Olympic Park in London, Mr Cameron will summon up the spirit of patriotism of the 2012 Games as he argues that the whole country will lose if Scotland votes to leave the UK ….. Independence would be bad for Scotland but would also leave the United Kingdom “deeply diminished” and would “rip the rug from under our own reputation” in the world, Mr Cameron will say … At a location carefully chosen to symbolise the successes of the whole United Kingdom working together as “Team GB”, Mr Cameron will say that the Olympic medals were won under the banner of a Union flag that was not only red and white but also blue. And he will say:…

View original post 1,149 more words

Scottish Independence, English identity and World reputations

UK GB diagram by CGP GreyShould Scotland vote to secure Independence from Great Britain and the United Kingdom in September 2014?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron thinks not. As reported by MSN news: In a speech at the Olympic Park in London, Mr Cameron will summon up the spirit of patriotism of the 2012 Games as he argues that the whole country will lose if Scotland votes to leave the UK ….. Independence would be bad for Scotland but would also leave the United Kingdom “deeply diminished” and would “rip the rug from under our own reputation” in the world, Mr Cameron will say … At a location carefully chosen to symbolise the successes of the whole United Kingdom working together as “Team GB”, Mr Cameron will say that the Olympic medals were won under the banner of a Union flag that was not only red and white but also blue. And he will say: “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.” … He will stress that the decision on independence is “squarely and solely for those in Scotland to make”, saying: “It is their choice, their vote”. But he will add: “My argument today is that though only four million people can vote in this referendum, all 63 million of us are profoundly affected. “There are 63 million of us who could wake up on September 19 in a different country, with a different future ahead of it.”

The British Government has been strangely silent on the subject of the Scottish Independence vote. I’m glad Mr Cameron is at last speaking out and I agree largely with the sentiments he is expressing here.

But what has Scottish independence got to do with social work you might wonder?

In particular, picking up on the last part of the quote, the identity of 63 million individuals may be affected overnight. In fact, it may be even more that figure, as others from places within the Commonwealth Realm, Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories may also feel they have a legitimate opinion on the matter (see CGP Grey’s video graphic for more about the differences between the British Isles, Great Britain and the United Kingdom etc).

The English have long been poor at having their own identity, images of dancing Morris Men and maypoles not having quite the same lure as the deeply patriotic celebrations of the Irish and Scots, the English preferring instead to consider themselves ‘British’ first. But things are changing. Anyone interested in football and rugby at least will already have noticed some of these changes. The Union Jack, once the dominant flag at English football matches has been increasingly replaced by the flag of St George in recent years. And maybe that’s a good thing. (See below for a little more information and a link to the history of the Union Jack.)

I will be sad if Scotland votes for independence in September. As David Cameron states, it will affect the identity of 63 million people, although some may feel it more than others. For myself, with an English mother and a Welsh father, as a child growing up I always identified as British, and I was proud of my Celtic heritage. Over the years I became aware of anti English sentiments among some quarters in Wales, and being of ‘mixed heritage’ (part Welsh) doesn’t make me any more welcome. With the setting up of the Welsh Parliament, or National Assembly for Wales, I have found myself increasingly replying that I am English first, British second (and European third). My Celtic heritage is being denied. My identity is changing. It has felt like a loss.

Which brings me back to the relevance of social work. Our identities change throughout our lives: from child to teenager to young adult, middle aged and older adult; from single to in a relationship, partnership or married, to divorced or widowed; to become parents or not, or step-parents; moving through education, work and retirement. These are all identity changes that affect people from all cultures in some way or another, developing over time as we are aware of growing older, plan getting married or having children, move through being a pre-schooler to student to graduate to worker. Together they form a raft of changes, that make us a part of the society we live in, and they are happening also to the people around us. They are changes that are expected. Sometimes we face them with trepidation or excitement, such as the first day in a new school or at work, a wedding or the birth of a baby, others we barely notice with the passage of time, until suddenly we realise we are not as young or fit as we were.

We may know of people, including ourselves, who have changed their religious beliefs and identity. But, with the exception of a few people who emigrate and take on the citizenship and identity of another country, it’s not often we experience changes in our national, cultural or ethnic identity. British history is riddled with such changes, as we have ‘conquered’ and ‘granted independence’ to what seems like half the world in the last several hundred years (again covered in the video link below). But that is not so close to home as the Scottish Independence issue.

All the opportunities to work with people from different cultures and backgrounds, races or religions, to ourselves, all the training in understanding diversity, cannot give us the experience of what it feels like to struggle with your own ethnic identity. So, whether you consider yourself English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, British or European, even regardless of whether you are white or BME, now is a great time to ask the question: how does it feel to have someone else in control of my racial and ethnic identity? Four million Scottish people have that call over 63 million people in Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Maybe answering that question will add a chink of understanding and empathy to the subject of diversity.

As an aside, the quotes from David Cameron indicate a confusion in the terms GB and UK – “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.”

UK or GB who knows the difference?

Well one man does, thankfully. But perhaps not David Cameron. In trying to draw on solidarity from the Olympic Games, in his speech he will mix the terms: “It’s Team GB I want to talk about today – our United Kingdom.”

In his rapid-fire video graphic on YouTube CGP Grey explains the difference (apologies: all attempts to embed the video here failed, please follow the link to YouTube instead – the image at the top of this blog comes from this video).

The Union Jack

The “Union Jack” as it is commonly known.

The history of the Union Jack can be found on Wikipedia, however summarised it is the “Cross of Saint Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of Saint Patrick, over all the Cross of Saint George”, in other words, a composite of the flags of Scotland, England and Ireland. The origins of the flag date back to 1603, developing through various political changes into the version shown here that was adopted in 1801. As Wales was already part of England when the form of the flag began in 1603 the Welsh flag is not included. Discussions have begun in some quarters as to changing the Union Jack should Scotland vote for independence.

Other countries still sufficiently identify with their history linked to the United Kingdom to include the current Union Jack within their own flags: Australia, Hawaii, Niue, New Zealand, Tuvalu, Fiji, Cook Islands, Bermuda, British Columbia, British Indian Ocean Territory and various States within the US and provinces with Canada.

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