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Posts by sean

Migration : a very personal view

October 1st, 2015 Posted by Uncategorized 1 comment

Migration – Then and Now: A Personal Response to Today’s Crisis

Earlier this year a relative of mine was going through the possessions of my late German grandfather. She found a curious document, folded and slightly faded. As she unfurled it, the faces of more than 50 men stared out at her. (more…)

In Response to Robin Lustig’s Piece: “My Father Was An Illegal Immigrant”

August 10th, 2015 Posted by Uncategorized 2 comments

It’s good to see so many people engaging in the debate – although some seem to have as much of a problem with the BBC as with the issue of Immigration!

The subject of immigration has been much on my mind too, not least as, somewhat akin to Robin, I too have a parent who came to Britain in search of refuge.

My father is an ethnic German. (more…)

UK’s EU Referendum: Fiction or Fantasy?

May 25th, 2015 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Children – and even some ‘grown up children’ – could be forgiven for thinking that a scary monster may lurk in the big, hidden house at the end of the long, straight drive nestled in the Chiltern Hills. Or may be it’s a Big Giant – friendly or otherwise – who is coming to call this evening? (more…)

“Nous Sommes Charlie”

January 12th, 2015 Posted by Charlie Hebdo 1 comment

There’s never been anything like Paris

Place de la République

In more than twenty years as a journalist I’ve covered many major stories and witnessed many large rallies – but nothing like yesterday in Paris.

I’ve seen angry crowds; defiant crowds; violent crowds: but yesterday in Paris was a day like no other. It was dignified, warm, uplifting – it was French.

I have spent the last few days reading many varying views on what the recent violence in Paris means and where it will lead. (more…)

Merkel in London: January 2015

January 7th, 2015 Posted by EU Politics No Comment yet

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The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, made her first visit of 2015 to Britain today as the UK election campaign – some may say, for now at least, a phoney campaign – swings into action. As so many times in the past Europe, and Britain’s ongoing membership of the EU, is in full focus. Initially Downing Street and the German Chancellory had emphasised that the main reason for today’s visit was for the German Chancellor to discuss G7 matters with Prime Minister David Cameron. But whatever the pretext, it soon became clear that the two leaders would discuss the European Union and calls by Britain and others for its reform. (more…)

Clacton By-Election (#2)

October 11th, 2014 Posted by Uncategorized 1 comment

Seismic Activity in British Politics: How Strong Will the Aftershocks Be Across Europe?

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 12.49.17

First UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell, with UKIP leader, Nigel Farage

A political drama was played out in a small theatre in an English seaside town in the early hours of Friday morning. No doubt Shakespeare, Goethe or even Molière might have been tempted to pen a work as UKIP – Britain’s eurosceptic party – won its first seat in the House of Commons and thereby made British political history.

(more…)

Clacton By-Election (#1)

October 9th, 2014 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

The Unhappy Birthday Present

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Clacton by-election candidates from the Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party, Labour, Conservatives and the Green Party (picture courtesy of BBC News website)

It’s been a blustery and sunny day in Clacton-on-Sea.

The small town, on the east coast of the UK, peers out from its promenade across a dirty grey sea towards dozens of wind turbines just off the coast, lined up as if ready to invade. And then it’s a straight, 150-mile (250-km) line southeast across the English Channel and the fields of Flanders – to Brussels.

This Thursday (9 October) a small and relatively deprived district of coastal Essex, with 69,000 people eligible to vote, is holding a parliamentary by-election. Advance copies of the local paper – the Gazette – are already predicting an historic day, one on which “British politics [will be changed] forever”.

(more…)

Scottish Referendum (#3)

September 19th, 2014 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Europe wakes up to Scottish Non/Nein/No/Ez/Nee/Nei/Nincs

I’m sitting in an arts venue just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile beneath portraits of three key figures in Scottish political life:

– Johann Lamont is the leader of the Scottish Labour Party – a NO supporter;

– Ruth Davidson is her Conservative counterpart – also a NO supporter;

– and Nicola Sturgeon was the number two in the YES campaign – and is, at time of writing, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

(more…)

Scottish Referendum (#2)

September 18th, 2014 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

Singing Through The Mist

Watched over by a statue of Adam Smith, the Scottish pioneer of modern economics, the square in front of St Giles Cathedral on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile rang out this afternoon to the strains of a would-be national anthem.
But it was not ‘The Flower of Scotland’ accompanied by the otherwise ubiquitous bagpipes that serenaded the international crowd: instead it was a full-throated version of ‘Els Segadors’ (‘The Reapers’), the anthem of the autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia.
Catalans are in Edinburgh in full force, firstly praising the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, for granting the Scots a vote on independence in the first place; and then giving their whole-hearted support to the YES campaign.
While Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond – last night in confident but inclusive mood – would probably want to re-pen some of the lyrics of ‘Els Segadors’ (“Catalonia triumphant shall again be rich and bountiful; drive away these people who are so conceited and so contemptuous”), he is surely welcoming the support.

But this sentiment of independence is giving cause for concern in Brussels.

Some believe that whichever side is declared the winner in the Scottish ballot in the early hours of tomorrow morning, a genie is now out of the bottle. The EU and some national governments fear the Scottish experience could lead to strong pushes for independence in places like the Spanish regions, Belgium and northern Italy. And some analysts believe a YES victory in Scotland could then lead to the rest of the UK exiting the EU once and for all (the so-called ‘Brexit’).
While the corridors of Brussels have for many months whiffed of the scent of frustration with the UK and its growing agitation against EU rules and regulations, many political leaders and officials agree that a ‘Brexit’ would not be good for the EU as a whole. The new President-designate of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has already made positive noises about the UK’s continuing membership of the EU – and ‘rewarded’ Britain with a more finance-orientated Commission portfolio than had first been mooted. And all this, despite a shaky Juncker-Cameron relationship.

So as a murky day dawned over the Scottish capital, all but obscuring the view of the city’s castle and putting a bit of a dampener on what had been almost a party atmosphere in recent hours as the YES and NO campaigns rose to their final flourishes, much was riding on how the people of Scotland answered that one, all-important question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
A bit of Scotch mist wasn’t going to stop them making their mark.

Journalists from around the world are in Scotland in huge numbers – surely into the thousands. Many were on the last train from Perth to Edinburgh last night after the final YES campaign rally, struggling with the pronunciation of some of the more typically Scottish place names along the route – but at the same time marvelling at a highly efficient wifi system on board the local train (rarely in evidence on similar trains in Scotland’s neighbour just 100 miles (160km) to the south, it must be said).
Many of the journalists are now working on their copy and reports in what would become the parliament of an independent Scotland – the current Scottish Parliament (designed, incidentally, by a Catalan architect). Above them rise the mighty hills of Holyrood Park and its main peak, Arthur’s Seat. I looked down from there this afternoon at the Scottish capital with its other six hills clamouring to emerge through the mist. Walkers, journalists and tourists were all in evidence, some even unfurling a Saltire Scottish flag to decorate the backdrop being used by the television news broadcasters in their iconic Edinburgh shots.
No doubt my fellow walkers were, like me, contemplating what sort of Scotland would finally emerge from the damp, enveloping haar, once the voting is over. Edinburgh Castle, the city’s proud sentinel, sits atop an extinct volcano – so no chance of an eruption there. But when it comes to Scotland’s political future as it emerges at dawn tomorrow, it may be a very different story.

All will be revealed in a matter of hours.

(More blogs to come. You can follow me on twitter: @BXLSeanK)

Correction: I apologise for my spelling error in Blog #1, in which I gave the ‘Scots’ an extra t to cross.

Scottish Referendum (#1)

September 18th, 2014 Posted by Uncategorized No Comment yet

On The Last Day of Campaigning…

 Brown boomed; Salmond soared

In the Scottish referendum campaign it’s been a day of high drama – in what have already been several weeks of high-tension political theatre. Many Scotts saw today as the culmination of weeks, months, years – in some cases even centuries – of campaigning for an independent Scotland.

The day began in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, with the former UK Prime Minister and notable Scot, Gordon Brown, appealing to his fellow countrymen and women to vote NO and remain part of a United Kingdom. It ended in the fair city of Perth with Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, making a rock-star entrance to the city’s concert hall and issuing the YES rallying cry of ‘let’s do this now’.

Both were performing to halls filled with one-hundred-percent supporters. The performances were of course far more for the attention of the rest of the country, beyond the walls of the respective venues. In both cases, social media lit up with effusive praise for the two ‘champions’: “the speech of his life” was not an uncommon phrase – from supporters on both sides.

As an EU watcher, I’ve listened to and read every report I can about what a YES vote might mean for Scotland and the EU. The truth seems to be that no one really knows. Speaking to Scots, political scientists and analysts, and fellow journalists in Edinburgh, views vary widely:

– Will there really be another border between England and Scotland?

– Will Scotland be forced in the end to adopt the Euro?

– How will Scotland fare without a bank of last resort?

– What will be the real impact on Britain’s position in the EU of losing 5 million people?

There are those who broadly take the Alex Salmond line that, in the end, the EU will come to some sort of accommodation with Scotland – afterall Scotland already follows the acquis communautaire (the EU’s ‘rule book’) and is an important part of the EU’s economy, not least where fishing stocks and oil are concerned. And then there are others who say Spain will stymy any attempt by Scotland to become the EU’s 29th member state, fearful as Spain is of further bolstering the spirit of independence in its regions, not least Catalonia. There are also those who believe further devolution for Scotland, in whatever guise, will lead some regions of EU member states – including in the UK – to examine more closely their own economies compared to their state’s national economy, and demand a better deal. Westminster is not the only political centre that’s twitchy about tomorrow’s (18th September) vote.

Sampling (a small quantity of) an AYE and a NAY beer at a media reception in Edinburgh last night, I heard the case of a Dutch colleague who is currently living in Scotland. As a tax-paying resident of the Alba nation, she is entitled to vote. She has only lived in Scotland for a few months and is not planning to make it her permanent home. So she is feeling heavily burdened with the responsibility of deciding the fate of a country where she will be but a transient resident. What is the right thing to do in such a situation? She is not yet sure. But she – like Messers Brown and Salmond – is only too aware that every last vote will count.

So now – back to Edinburgh for voting day. The turnout is expected to be unprecedented (the sort that dictators invent). And so it’s hard to know if the pollsters, working in such unchartered waters, have been accurate. The latest puts the two sides just 2 points apart; with Alex Salmond almost relishing the chance this evening to describe his camp as the ‘underdogs’, a term he perhaps hopes acts as a strong voting fillip.

May be it’s my recent Edinburgh taxi drivers – ever a political barometer for over-hasty journalists – who best capture the mood. One said he preferred to keep his counsel and leave the febrile atmosphere to tourists and the media; the other said his support for the NO side had led three lesbian passengers to accuse him of being a traitor.

The gamut of emotions and opinions is well and truly being run.

Tomorrow feels like just the conclusion of the first act of this action-packed drama.

Voting begins at 7am (18 Sept 2014).

(Updates to follow)