Totally Free, Totally Independent

Totally Free, Totally Independent

A lot of territorial changes are anticipated in the wake of a letter from Theresa May to Donald Tusk. By triggering Article 50 it clear that the political map of Europe will need to be redrawn. There is a great deal of uncertainty of how Britain’s leaving of the European Union will be managed, what form trade arrangements will take, what new international arrangements will be made, how will new opportunities be handled. Although slightly apprehensive, I am optimistic that this is a step in the correct direction and one which will allow us to become more democratic, more responsible and able to have relationships with a wider range of people and places.

It is also likely that this change may lead to changes in the make up if the ‘United’ Kingdom itself.  The S.N.P. see Brexit as an opportunity to push for a second independence referendum and, were they successful, Plaid Cymru may follow suit. Although this is rather opportunistic of the S.N.P., I have no concerns over this. Smaller is better in terms of democracies and, in the absence of a federal or canton system in the U.K. , four smaller nations would be less undemocratic than one large unit. These smaller states would be more flexible and responsive than their larger progenitor. This could possibly, though not necessarily, lead to better economic and social systems.

My only concerns are that the S.N.P., with its large state policies and plans to seek continued membership of the European Union, is not promoting policies which bode well for an independent Scotland’s future. On the one hand their policies suggest a future reminiscent of the nightmare of Venezuela (Inefficient oil-backed socialism) while Europe’s policies sugest and equally unsavoury prospect of a Greek future (of externally imposed austerity and reduced public spending).

If we are going to try to use nation states to break up bigger units and bring power closer to people we have to be careful that we manage to do this. Break up the United Kingdom by all means but break up the European Union also.  Don’t bring powers back from London simply to send them further away to Brussels. If we are going to ‘Cry Freedom’ lets go for full freedom and independence. Fully free we can work out our economic and social plans for ourselves.




via Daily Prompt: Territory

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

The Daily Prompt today was “resist”  and initially I was going to give this one a miss. However, the worry that many people have about the changes in America under President Trump is causing much discussion on issues of resistance.  However, much of this initial resistance seemed very unfocussed and, at times, even anti-democratic. It almost seemed that people wanted to oppose the democratic result itself – a wail against the result – rather then looking at specific political points that need to be addressed and, trust me, there is no shortage of these issues.

Spiked, the online magazine has been a valuable source of good critical political debate and I thought that this article by them gave a good summary of where some of this activity could be directed. There are clear good initial pointers to action. There are also some good general points about the political changes.

In particular, we need to be very careful about the direction of “anti-politics”, as the article reveals, this can be very dangerous :-

Trump … “Your pose as the anti-politician, the man who hates the political class, is getting wearisome. It has crossed the line from criticism of he establishment, which is good, into a trashing of politics itself, of the very business of people getting together and talking and voting in order to make things happen. When will your anti-politics shift into a conviction that you alone should decide how things should be run? That’s the logical conclusion to anti-politics, whether it takes the form of demagoguery (you) or technocracy (Hillary).”

Spiked also makes a direct call to Trump :-

“In short, Trump, do not interfere with individual autonomy, freedom of speech or reproductive choice; do not promote the politics of fear; do not keep fighting the disastrous ‘war on terror’; and do not expand the power of the state over people’s lives. Respect freedom and choice and trade and growth: true, good liberal ideals.”

Given, that I fear, it is likely he will reject this advice, the other pointers to practical  ways to resist him will prove invaluable.


via Daily Prompt: Resist

Flattery; a dangerous foe.

Flattery; a dangerous foe.

via Daily Prompt: Flattery

Flattery is an insidious and dangerous foe. It works best when it is aimed at our blind spots. We can all recognise flattery when it addressed to areas where we are relatively self-aware and know our failings.

I know that I pass as “plain” on a good day, while on a bad day people might cross the street to keep out of my way. I can even shock myself were I to  I catch an unexpected glimpse of my own reflection. I am fine when I have posed my expression and stance and readied and told myself what to expect when I look in the mirror. Using words such as mature, wise, sage and other adjectives –  words that are rarely used on dating sites. The shock comes when I don’t expect it and I catch a glance of this old dolt in the mirror. Good grief .. .. stomach in .. .. stand upright .. .. back to the sage expression .. .. that’s better .. .. shock over .. .. phew,

So, for example,  flattery over my appearance rarely works. I am wise in this area. When young attractive women passed positive comments on my appearance, or style, in the hotel bar when I was abroad at conferences I knew this was flattery. I knew they were ‘at work’ and my allure was my credit card rather than my resemblance to a young Adonis. When shopkeepers praise my fine taste and ability to be ahead of the fashion curve, I know I am being soft soaped and that my wallet is being gently opened. Similarly when the negotiator praises my acumen and perception I know I am missing something from the deal.

Flattery is dangerous, however, when it is applied to areas where one has a degree of confidence. We are more likely to believe the sycophant when we already have a high opinion of ourself. Vanity is  the obvious patsy for flattery. It is this form of flattery that is so successful in financial scams. The “I can see that you are an astute investor…” or “You are somebody that obviously likes to be ahead of the crowd” are common opening lines of financial scams. But this problem can rear its head elsewhere also.

When I was much younger and working as a doctor I would often see patients referred after failed treatment or dissatisfaction with other doctors. Sometimes this was part of a much bigger issue, when the doctor-patient relationship was, itself, part of the problem. I was often proud to be called on to give my opinion or to try and assist when others had failed.

These consultations would often start with a very flattering opening gambit …

“Oh My Dr. X, you are so much more understanding than that Dr Y I used to see !     I can see that you are much nicer and I can tell you things I never could with them.     I am sure you will be able to help me.”

I grew to be able to recognise this dangerous opening for the flattery it is though when young I sometimes missed it. When I failed to see this flattery, and I was blinded by my own vanity, I unfortunately could reply along the lines of …

Oh thank you Mr Y. You are so uncommonly perceptive

Having fallen for the flattery and, worse, having given flattery in return we were both trapped in a relationship which was never fruitful, nor helpful, for either of us. Flattery had lead us to positions which were not tenable.

Flattery, a dangerous foe, especially when you think that you are on safe ground.

Trying to follow the daily prompt : Flattery

Can we be too careful ?

Can we be too careful ?

via Daily Prompt: Careful

I imagine that everyone hopes that they are careful. They believe that they assess risks and take steps to avoid or minimise them. They castigate themselves when they make errors and chide themselves, an others, when they are careless. It is held that there is a duty as we grow up to be careful, childhood is the time when we can be carefree. But can we be too careful ?

I think we all can remember times when our caution made us miss an opportunity, when in hindsight we regretted our hesitation. Certainly we can all recall the old adage “faint heart never won fair lady” and many of us have friends or acquaintances troubled by timid, over-cautious natures who lives are stunted by the problems of excessive care and anxiety. In the world of science, however,  a preferred adage might be “better safe than sorry” where the stakes are higher than winning the hand of the damsel. But is is possible that excessive caution and being too careful can be troublesome here also ?

In the scientific world this might be the case with the “Precautionary Principle“. This was brought in as Principle 15 in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It might be well defined as follows :-

‘When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.’

Similar descriptions of the principle have been placed in regulations such as the World Charter for Nature and  E.U.’s Treaty of Maastrich.  A basic tenet of the  this principle is that the ‘duty of care’ or ‘onus of proof’ is on those who those who propose change. Further, we are advised to err on the side of caution, even when there is no scientific evidence of harm.

While appreciation of risk and assessment of risk are a basic, and advisable, scientific task this principle can cause problems.  Were the instruction ” assess and avoid risk” this would be entirely reasonable and right. But avoid risk, even is there is no evidence of risk , is a much more troublesome statement.

Obviously when change is proposed there may well be risks, but after these have been dealt with, it will always be possible to imagine or fear further risks for which there is no scientific basis. People feared train travel would be so fast that it would be damaging to the human body, people feared radio waves would affect the human mind. It would not have been possible to show at the time that these things would not occur. Presently we see the precautionary principle pulled out to protect us from all sorts of risks ; GM crops, Fracking, mobile phone masts, vaccination – “Just because they don’t know it doesn’t do any harm, doesn’t mean it wont.” they cry.

But here lies the inherent anti-scientific nature of this principle. It is not possible to prove the existence of something which doesn’t exist. If someone states that there are spirits form past lives in the ether. I can not prove that they are there. I can say that we have never seen them, I can also say that there is no known mechanism for them to be there. This is what science can do. With regard to harm scientists can say ‘we have never seen it’ and there is ‘no known mechanism’ for it to occur. This would be inadequate for the precautionary principle which would suggest caution and hesitation even though there is no scientific basis for this.

rtx12n8eAll life entails risks. Scientific progress is no different. Each step forward we take carries some risk. However, looking back at our development we live happier, healthier and longer lives now as a consequence of taking these risks and the progress of science. We would have missed major steps if we had been so risk averse. Had we fully comprehended the risks of aspirin we would never have started using it. For every risk we take we must also consider the risk we take by not moving forward. Had Jenner not taken the risks of injecting his fellow countrymen with  cowpox, then smallpox would still blight our lives and would have caused millions of deaths.  Those deaths would be the cost of not taking the risk.

Similarly, this year, two million children will die from nutritional deficiency, entirely needlessly ,because we will not allow the use of “Golden Rice”. We allow them to die because of our fear of the possible ‘risks’ . This is nearing a “crime against humanity” say over one third of all living science Nobel Laureates in their recent letter. I don’t think they are being excessive in their complaint.

Two million children dead while we follow the precautionary principle. Yes, it is possible to be too careful.


Arguments, I’ve had a few.

Arguments, I’ve had a few.

via Daily Prompt: Argument

This is a topic with which I have become increasingly familiar in the last few years. Arguments; I seem to have more and more of them. I argue over more, and more diverse, topics with a larger number of people from a wider range of walks of life. Why has this happened ?

I don’t fit the stereotype that people seem keen to apply to me. As I am affluent,  middle-class and well educated to post-doctorate level I am presumed to be a “EU remainer“. With a hostiry of  more than 30 years working as a doctor in the NHS it is presumed that I will idolise the “NHS as the best in the world“. Since people know I am concerned about the threat of global warming I am presumed to be “anti-nuclear power and fracking.” Being strongly opposed to racism and bigotry I’m presumed to agree with other peoples’ plans to “no platform” people who preach hate and division. As a celt, a Scot living in Wales, it’s anticipated that I will hold anti-imperialist “anti-English” feelings. As a smallholder, keen on animal welfare and food quality people will start discussions with the presumption that I will be “opposed to GM crops” and keen on “organic farming“.

As I no longer hold with these positions there are often grounds for discussion. For example, friends know I used to hold that the NHS was the best way possible to deliver healthcare and are surprised, and disappointed, that I no longer do. Arguments arise as they try to return me to the fold. In many of these topics I used to hold the clichéd position but with age and wisdom I have changed. When I was younger there was a great efficiency, and security, in toeing the party line.

As a boy and a young man I needed a substitute for maturity and experience and I borrowed the wisdom of others. If Marx, Trotsky or their subsequent disciples  had said something, that was good enough for me. There were papers each week to ensure I knew what ‘the position‘ was on all areas. Socialist Worker made sure I knew what to think on matters domestic and foreign. Life was easy, I knew what was right and what was wrong. I needed to do little thinking as other had done all the hard work for me. It was largely the case that all I needed to do was to check what the ‘line’ was on the issue and off I went.

I had very few arguments and most of these were unimportant. If people held a contrary opinion to ours then they were wrong. They had not developed the appropriate consciousness to realise the correct position thus they failed to see the truth of our statements. It meant it mattered little if I lost an argument as the other position had obviously been held by a class enemy or someone duped by one. It also meant I never learnt from arguments as I didn’t try to understand the other position I simply tried to counter it, to prove it wrong and to reassure myself that my beliefs were correct and intact.

As we are the sum of our thoughts, ideas, passions and feelings, as an adolescent there is an allure of an off the shelf identity. Not only did this substitute for a lack of knowledge and experience it also gave a sense of belonging. In early adulthood, having left one family and not yet started another, political groups can be an important source of society and support. The political tribes probably perform the same function to many as the music tribes (are you a goth, a punk, emo, or indie ?) or gangs (which team do you support ?) at that time. Unfortunately though, it is worse than that. With musical tribes, for example, one only has to wear foolish clothes and profess a liking for the occasional mediocre track by your hero. In political tribes your entire world view is bend into shape.

Just like off the shelf clothing, after a while I realized my off the shelf character didn’t fit.As I amassed knowledge I started to realise that certain belief that I thought were based on fact were, in fact, based on error (or occasionally worse – falsehood).As I became more experienced I became aware that my personal experience did not accord with what I had professed to believe; life was much more complex than the black and white pictures I had been shown. As a doctor working in the NHS it was hard to square the idea of mediocre service I saw with the “envy of the world” I professed it to be.

As I grew older I became more confident and able to trust my own feelings and opinions and able to question my own beliefs. This led me to having more arguments not only with others but with myself also. What happened in these debates also mattered now, as it they werea  way to become clear on what my true beliefs and opinions actually are. Arguments became a source of learning not simply an opportunity to proselytise. They became a way to examine my life and live it rather then borrowing the character of others and acting out their lives.

Many of the ideas I had as a young man stay with me. I still hold basic principles such as freedom of speech and association. I still passionately reject unfair discrimination, such as racism or bigotry. I still oppose war and fear for our planet’s future. But these ideas and all others are up for argument. Hopefully as I continue to grow I’ll continue to change and I anticipate arguments will be the best tool to ensure this. I wish I’d started earlier but better late than never.





It is just as important to go out as it is to come in.

It is just as important to go out as it is to come in.

via Daily Prompt: Border

Borders are strange beasts. We all accept them  despite little evidence that they are to our benefit. We often only become aware of them when we realise that they are a problem to us, for example in times of war or civil unrest when we need to move. Borders are there to impede our movement, to keep us where we are whether we want to be there or not. Unfortunately, most interest is focused on the use of border to keep people outside. In Britain and other areas of Europe this has become a major feature of political debate – “How can we secure our borders and keep people out ?

This dislike of movement is against all the evidence which has shown that immigration has a  positive effect on societies – both economically and socially. There is no incentive for people to move to make matters worse somewhere else, that is the role of states with their wars and empire building. We, as individuals, move to be able to improve our lot and, at the same same time, improve the lot, through trade and work, of our new neighbours.

The real concerns, that immigration may have the effect of undercutting the wages of local workers, or that it may overstretch the provision of welfare services, are easily dealt with. The first problem’s solution lies in good syndicalist movements and the organisation of workers. Through effective unionisation and collective bargaining it is possible avoid this potential downside of immigration. Indeed, if immigration improves the economy, as it invariably does, there is more wealth to be distributed; the task is to distribute this more fairly (rather than to allow deleterious effects on the economy, through banning movement. which mean everyone has less).

The second concern, over the utilisation of welfare services such as health or education could again easily be managed. Rather than have these schemes based on taxation and residence, return them to insurance based schemes. People could then make provision for their services whatever their country of origin. Schemes would soon develop which would aid people in their movement, the effects of the local levels of supply and demand would encourage the development of varied services which would meet the local needs. The free market makes better, more appropriate, services for local societies and much more quickly than the cumbersome and slow processes of central national planning.

But to return again to the beginning, border do not just keep people out, they keep people in. According the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 10th December 1948 (UDHR) we have the right to leave any country including your own. However, this is a basic right that is largely ignored.  Try and leave your country of residence without a passport and you will find it well nigh impossible legally. No carrier will assist you, you will not be able to start discussion with any other country where you may wish to go.

This right to leave any country forces on nations a negative obligation that they do not impede our movement and that they issue all the necessary travel documents without undue delay. In essence this means that the country issues passports to its citizens. However, this is not done as a matter of course and is not always done without payment. This control over our ability to leave is a restriction on our liberty and something that should not be tolerated. We are free men and women, we are not the property of our state.

Next time you witness refugees fleeing disasters, whether these be natural or, more likely state made, remember how borders are slowing down their flight to safety and making it less likely that they will succeed. Think also on the matter of how you would flee if there were a change in your country’s rulers so that you and your family were at risk, or how you would flee were there a natural disaster or war. Would you be happy to see the barbed wire of the border fence and happy to meet the border guard ?

Borders – we don’t need them.