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Fewer Flags, More Flowers

I haven’t commented on the current situation in Cataluña yet.

I suppose that some might think that strange, given my previous comments on other referenda, such as the Scottish one, and my advocating for a yes vote on proclaiming independence.

This is a little bit more complicated.

And not just because I live in Spain, where some of my friends and family would be of the opposite opinion, and I can do without the aggravation

It’s complicated because the Spanish are, to throw a stereotype out there, bloody stubborn and ill-disposed to listen to the opposite point of view with much in the way of tolerance. Just a few minutes watching any chat or panel show will show you that. They can’t stop shouting over one another even when they’re paid to give their considered opinion.

This means the Catalan question has the potential to get worse, in a way nobody wants, but well, shit happens, and has happened.

People get entrenched.

Of course, my reticence on the subject doesn’t mean I haven’t been asked my opinion, usually with the anticipation that I’ll agree with the inquirer’s point of view.

I have tried to be diplomatic in giving that opinion. But give it I have, for I never learnt one of my father’s lessons – only say something if it’s to your advantage. I can’t hold back the truth. There are too many wankers walking around our world, walking on our world, because people have been reluctant to cause offence or call them out on their bullshit.

I went to Cantabria last weekend. Wonderful. But a small blemish on the experience was seeing the Spanish flag draped from many balconies. Some of these balconies were on the houses of Guardia Civiles stationed in the towns, others were on working class blocks of flats.

20171015_115130.jpg

Does the flag add anything here? No.

The thing is, that Cantabria is in the opposite direction from my house to Cataluña. Santander is three hours west, Barcelona five hours east. What the fuck the Cantabrians think they’re doing with the flags that the Catalans will feel any emotion whatsoever is beyond me. Nobody in Barcelona gives a toss if some lad in Santander sticks a flag out his window. At least, they shouldn’t.

But this is how entrenchment starts. First it’s the fucking flags and the waving them and the burning of others’ flags. Next thing you know, you’ve got the Guardia Civil staring across a barricade at a hastily formed citizen’s militia.

I’ve never been one for flags. Nor football jerseys. I can’t see the point of them outside the Olympics, to be honest.

There were several mass demonstrations in various cities across Spain (and I include Cataluña for brevity) over the last couple of weeks. Most of them had flags waving. There were thousands of people in Madrid waving their flags under the biggest Spanish flag ever in the Plaza de Colon, singing Yo soy Español. Amazing. We know you are. You’re in fucking Madrid – the capital of Spain. What the hell has that got to do with Cataluña seeing independence? They aren’t trying to make you a fucking Catalan. How could that demonstration help in the slightest? Or how, pray tell, is bussing thousands to Barcelona from all over Spain to do the same thing going help in the slightest?

It only serves to entrench.

There was one cross-country demonstration where everyone dressed in white and waved white placards. I liked that demonstration. The idea was that the politicians should fucking talk (‘cause you’d be surprised that a group of people employed to talk to each other could hide so efficiently from one another, or from the media for that matter. But Rajoy is a master at staying at home watching football while the country he’s supposed to be helping falls apart at the seams.). Needless to say, it had little impact. Because the politicians get elected by the people in the trenches.

They don’t care if that leads down the road to shitville. They don’t go to war, their kids don’t go to war, they are of the elite to whom this shit just doesn’t stick. And while we’re all in a fluster, they’re quietly getting away with the frauds they’ve been perpetrating this whole time. Both sides are as corrupt as the other.

So here’s my own opinion. which has changed little since last time the Catalans were looking for a referendum…

I would like to see Cataluña remain as part of Spain.

But only on their terms.

If they want to go, the rest of Spain has to let them go. It’s that simple. Anything else is just bullshit. And bloody bullshit if things go awry.

I would like to see true European integration. I bought that idea way back. My kids are trilingual, have two passports and I think we should move to whatever country we like for as long as we like, because we like, and not because some places have better jobs and better wages and their politicians grind other places down to keep things that way.

But the small-minded, short-term thinking of politicians has shown that to be a dream – hitherto fore, anyway.

Until then, though, each community should have as much say about its own destiny as it can get for itself. George Monbiot has been talking about the benefits of the commons in recent weeks. The smaller the group holding the purse strings, the better.

Now, the Catalans have been getting a bad deal compared to other parts of Spain, at least in their view – and let’s face it, it’s their view that counts. So an ever-greater proportion of the population has decided that it’s time to take not just the purse strings into their hands, but the reins and to hell with the rest of Spain.

Once that proportion of the population becomes big enough, then you have to listen to them. You can’t just ignore them as crackpots or begrudgers or whatever else you want to label them.

Sending in the cops against some hippies might work, but sending the cops in against a million people taking to the streets is just not on. As we have seen. I’ve witnessed National Police do similar shit to people in the past, but when they did it to thousands on October first, they got a media backlash that had just the opposite effect to that desired. To quote Peter Gabriel in Biko, “you can’t blow out a fire.”

Had the Spanish government given some certain concessions, perhaps the numbers looking for a referendum. But they didn’t do that. And look where it got them.

If a part of the population looking for independence reaches a critical mass, you have to give them a referendum.

Had the Spanish government done that a while back, well, everybody who knows anything says that the No vote would have easily won.

Look what happened in Scotland, even though we were all sure it would go the other way.

But they didn’t do that.

And look where it got them. Exactly where anyone who knows anything knew it would.

Once you deny a large group something, and especially if you go about it aggressively, without talking, with the heavy hand, the hard boot, well, all of a sudden other people outside that group will ask why the fuck you are denying their fellow citizens, and who the fuck you think you are denying them, and well, hell, they might just ask for the same thing themselves, just to piss you off, you prick.

It’s called History, Mr Rajoy.

So now you have a growing independence movement and a government still saying there’s no way in hell they’re going to get independence. And in fact, some of them are going to jail for sedition.

Easily solved, I think not.

The only option is talking.

There are other options, of course. Like what happened in other countries which became independent. History has lots of those examples.

And at the same time, history means fuck all to the future.

The fact that there was no Catalan kingdom before is irrelevant. The fact that Ireland was never joined as one country before the English invaded was irrelevant. The fact that half of a currently designated area is in favour of separation and the other half isn’t doesn’t mean that they either stay or go – they can split. Look at Ireland – though I know that was a bit of a fudge/fuckup. Belgium can become two countries, if they want, just like Czechoslovakia did. Cataluña might not all become independent. It’ll depend on what the local people say, and how many of them say it.

And everyone else, who doesn’t live in Cataluna can keep their noses out.

Except the goons in government. They need to get fucking talking.

So let’s see more flowers and fewer flags on people’s balconies, please.

 

 

 

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So long, and thanks for all the fish…

 

Except Britain didn’t give the EU very much fish – the North Sea is basically fished out.

But that’s beside the point.

The point is that the Brits always said that it was the Irish who were stupid (we did give up a lot of fish, it must be said.)

I’ve not spoken about the referendum on Britain leaving the EU until now – except to say that if they left I was going to set up a Change.Org petition to get the immigrants out of Spain.

It seems a bit late to stick my oar in now.

And many would assume that since I was all for Scottish Independence, and support a referendum in Catalunya, I’m all delighted the Brits have signed out.

Well, though I have to respect their decision, I think they’re making a mistake.

I don’t believe they’ve voted for more autonomy, because they felt the EU was controlling them too much. Apart form the fact that the City of London drives many policy choices, look at Britain’s position in the EU. It didn’t join the Euro, it kept citizens of new member states out for years, and still doesn’t allow free movement of EU citizens into the country, and it’s border starts in Calais. And when it threatened this referendum, it got a sweetheart deal to stay in.

On the contrary, I think the majority voted to leave because they can’t control completely what direction the other nations are going in, and that pisses them off. They want not their own autonomy, but to be in charge again – that’s of course, ignoring the fact that many people believed the lies they were told by politicians mostly intent on improving things for their rich mates.

Look at the ages of who voted to leave.

Brexit voter ages

The youth voted to stay, the pensioners to go.

Usually it’s the old who are most conservative. And this is a pretty big change to embark on.

But do they see it as change? Or as a return to the olde status quo. They are the ones who remember the Empire.

Much as a small part of an Irishman wants to let the Brits try out their experimental isolation in a globalised world, and say good riddance, I was being facetious about making a petition to rid Spain’s health service (much better than the NHS, I reckon!) of the burden of a million non-EU immigrants, the folk here are like me – European.

They didn’t vote to leave. Many a feeling very fucking sick this morning. They signed up to the story we were told twenty years ago, about everyone in the EU being one.

We can see that in reality the politicians of the rich nations care little for the ideals of the European project – look at how they hung Greece out to dry.

But millions of us still believe in those ideas – that we’re not penned in by stupid patriotism to the extent that we hate anyone enough to go to war anymore. That we are now – or can be – truly equal as EU citizens, such that the inequalities between states can be reduced – not only to the extent that Ireland now has decent roads (hurray!) but that there is a continent-wide minimum wage, so nobody will want – or need so much – to emigrate solely on economic bases, that prices will be similar across borders and, yes, tax regimes will be run more in line with one another so companies don’t skip from country to country, blackmailing governments for special favours and it won’t matter where we live and/or work.

This, for me, is only a stepping stone towards what I see as the main goal of humanity this century (apart from avoiding the imminent ecological disasters and planetary degeneration of course… ) to make opportunity, prices, wages, etc. more equal between continents, so the economic migrants don’t have to make such treacherous journeys and were are not persuaded to buy shite trinkets or too many clothes from cut-price stores simply because they’re so cheap.

Perhaps it seems like a pipe dream, but so is rewilding Ireland, and I’ve signed up for that!

The British have voted to go back in time. For many of us, there is no going back. Brits in Europe will seek citizenship and permanent residency status – just like any African or Asian, or South American immigrant. Thousands are already seeking Irish passports.

And perhaps without Britain the European project will become more concentrated on fulfilling the ideals we were sold. Maybe soon it will be a more cohesive continent – one so good and attractive that the English (and Welsh – Scotland and Northern Ireland will break away to stay inside) will want to join up again.

 

The Catalan Question; The Answer is Yes

Almost exactly a year ago I suggested the Scots take their chance at independence like a wide receiver clutches an American football to his chest and legs it.

I stand by that.

At the moment, the Catalans – the people of the region of Cataluña or Catalonia in the North east of what we call Spain – are pondering a similar question.

mapa-cataluna
Here’s a map for those who’ve never heard of the place – I should add that Barcelona is the capital of the region; might jog the memory..

It’s not quite the same because there will be no referendum.

The right wing government in Madrid are insisting such a referendum would be illegal, clinging to a constitution made when everyone was not quite sure some follower of Franco wouldn’t take over and return the country to Fascism for another forty years, so it was best not to ask for too much. They tried, actually, not many years later, on February 23rd 1981 (I know that because my daughter was born on the 23rd of February and everybody makes a comment; not far from the mind of people even now).

So the pro-independence parties of Catalonia have decided that if they get a broad support from the populace in their regional elections this month, they’ll go ahead and announce independence anyway, to come in after eighteen months of negotiations and preparations.

The answer is the same. Yes.

I fully expect them to get the support they want. If there had been a referendum, I reckon the Catalans would have voted to stay inside a federal Spain, albeit with more autonomy. But they weren’t given that option, and when some powerful fucker from somewhere else says you can’t have something, then it’s not too uncommon for the common folk to say, fuck you, I’m going to take it.

The question you might perhaps be asking is if I just last week said it was time to get past this silly notion of nationality, how can I suddenly support the separation of a part of a state from the rest based on that same idea?

I implied patriotism for a place that is just as good as any other place, with people who are just as good, and bad as (equal to, in fact) you and me is a load of wank, there to empower only a few dodgy politicians.

And I stand by that.

And the Catalan question involves a fair few politician of the distinctly dodgy persuasion, who have thus far got fairly rich (actually very fucking rich) off their positions, and a decent handful of whom are being investigated for fraud and corruption and all that good stuff, while they all touted how bad they and their fellow Catalans were being treated by the big bad government in Madrid.

Because the shittiness of their politicians does not negate the Catalan’s right to self-determination. They deserve to decide if they will be a separate country, and they deserve to determine how that country will be run; if it will involve the same kind of structures used up to now or if they’ll try out a whole different thing – or even return to the way things were done during the heady days of 1936 when George Orwell was marvelling at the anarchists of Barcelona, before the war was taken out of their hands by the Nazis and Stalinists.

The patriotism of the Catalans is not better or worse on its face than that of Americans or Afghans. But in the greater scheme of things it will be more positive if we end up with a situation where people are able to run their own small patch of land. I don’t want to say that they’re governed by people closer to them, because I don’t think they should be governed necessarily – I prefer to see politicians as citizen representatives than leaders; which they jolly well should be, to put it nicely.

If the world, or in this case, Europe, was broken up into smaller and smaller pieces then people would have more control over their politicians, would be able to keep closer tabs on them, and make them do what they are supposed to (forward the good of their fellow citizens and the area as a whole) rather than get rich helping out big corporations. Iceland got itself out of debt because the politicians could not hide from the population, and had to do what the citizens said – which in this case was don’t pay those fucking leech banks. Ireland didn’t do the same because our politicians are separated, just a little bit too much, from their constituents, and because they know we’ll vote them back in in four or eight years because we’ve short memories and we’re a little stupid at times, and since we had our independence and a civil war we’re reluctant to go on the rampage again (by we I mean those still keeping their heads above water by keeping their heads down, to mix a metaphor).

Even though Ireland is run by a bunch of arseholes, they haven’t fleeced us as much as the corrupt pigs in Spain have, simply because they couldn’t get away with such opulence if they took all they could. We’d notice if they suddenly had their own helicopters and yachts and private islands. The Spanish have been used to rich nobility for ages, what with that old woman who’d more titles than the queen of England. There is a social circle to which the politicians can aspire, which is kind of lacking in Ireland. Saying that, we did have Charlie Haughey in Ireland, who had his own private island and boat and all that gear, and it took us a long time to ask the question, “how the fuck is he able to afford race horses and the like, and just why is our prime minister called Champagne fucking Charlie anyway?”

But that’s the Irish for ye.

Back to the point.
If Europe is a band of tiny nations, it’s less likely that one arsehole can just do that the hell he wants. Putin rules one huge country, and as such, has power. If we could knock Russia back into a plethora of small principalities (not calling them that, though, since we’d rather not have any princes running them) then he’d only be in charge of one.

It’s hard to do with Russia, but the nationalistic movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that unified Germany and Italy, and Spain and France, too, can be turned back now. It was all well and good (actually, it was shit, cos it caused two fucking world wars) for a while, but we’ve gone beyond that now – we have a unification of Germany WITH Italy and Spain and France into mother Europe, and so it’s fine to go back to having Bavaria and Prussia and Lombardy and Galicia, etc. If Mrs Merkel was the leader of just one Germanic region (not sure where she’s from), then she’d not be able to frog march us all into eternal debt. She’d have to find consensus. And that would be harder to find (a consensus that we all pay back huge banks money they don’t deserve and we didn’t lose) when every other leader had to answer to a population he or she was forced to live closely among.

The smaller the country, the more accountable are the representatives.

And the more necessary for such small nations to band together to pursue common goals.

And those common goals are less likely to be sucking the bell ends of banks and corporations.

So go for it, Cataluña. What have you got to lose? EU membership? Nah. They need you more than they need the Greeks, or the Irish for that matter. Just come back in under better terms.

Voting Yes for marriage equality in Ireland.

vote yes

A few months back, I talked about voting YES in a referendum. Now I’m back doing the same. Different topic, different country, but strangely, I can’t actually vote myself in this one, either.
Even though it’s an Irish referendum, and I’m obviously Irish.
Once you leave the island, you may as well not exist for the Irish government and civil service. They probably want people to leave so they have fewer people to canvas for votes.
I have missed a good many votes since I left home.
Some of them I wish I could have been there for. This is definitely one of them. There have been significant changes to our constitution before. This is no less important. It is more so, in fact. It proposes that we, the Irish, change our constitution to make it possible for anyone to marry anyone else. And to have a family the way they see fit.
It is apparently the first time in history an entire nation has had the opportunity to do this. Other countries with free marriage changed their laws in parliament.
Ireland has a well-written and strong constitution. We the people have a lot of power. Luckily, given the shower of gombeens that usually “leads” us.
This May 22nd, we can show the world that the Irish are indeed, an independent nation. Nearly a hundred years after our attempts to overthrow the heavy jackboot of a foreign invader, we can demonstrate a different type of independence. We are at last free from the shadow of a false morality, the lying claims of a moral superiority that locked up unmarried mothers, that made grandmothers pretend to have infants in their forties, that forced a lot of good people to do a lot of stupid and awful things. One of which was hide their true selves from the world – from their own friends and family.
I had a long facebook discussion with someone who was worried about the effects of this law on children. Not on the direct impact of having a gay parent, but of having to deal with bullies who might make fun of a child with gay parents. The person had witnessed a child in the nineties being made fun of because her parents had split up (yes, Ireland was that closed minded still then: at least some were)
No matter how I explained that this person was actually arguing against their own logic, the fear of children suffering because we haven’t changed the world to perfect yet led her to believe we should wait until the world is perfect before we change it.
I think this person is just not used to the world the way it is now, is afraid of change to the way things always were in Ireland way back then. I’ve since learned that the No campaign have purposefully brought children into the picture to muddy the waters…
I was thinking about old people today, as I cycled along a busy main street. A handful of pensioners were on the side of the road, about five feet from the edge, ready to make a break between cars. I wondered how they could be in such a rush as to endanger themselves. But they probably don’t see it that way. They have always jaywalked, and they’re not going to stop now. It’s why old people are the ones who don’t wear seatbelts – they’re used to the old ways. And they want the old ways to stay, sometimes. No matter how much pain and suffering and often death the old ways caused, and knowing in their heart of hearts that the new way is probably better. It’s why I don’t wear a bike helmet in the city (for the record, bike helmets are like low energy light bulbs: not the best solution to the problem at all – slow the cars down, make them a bit more respectful of cyclists and 90% of all serious accidents would disappear. In most car incidents, having a helmet doesn’t save the cyclists anyway). It’s why I as fast as I always did in my teens though I’m forty-one. But my daughter doesn’t complain about the helmet, nor do I feel quite right in a car unless I have my seatbelt on.
We accept the world we are born into.
That’s why we have to change the world now for our kids to accept the new reality as they grow up. They won’t make fun of the children of gay couples if they see that their parents don’t, or don’t allow it, if they live in a society where gay parents are accepted as just as normal as anyone else’s parents. I touched on this when I was talking about how Clarkson is a relic of an old world we don’t accept anymore.
Such changes can come quickly. Spain has had gay marriage for 8 years. It has only had democracy for 40. When I was born it was still a fascist dictatorship. Ireland has been a republic for 90 years. In some aspects we’re only catching up with the rest of Europe. But we’re finally here now.
We don’t frown on unmarried mothers or make unhappy couples stay together for life, or prevent them finding happiness with someone else. We frown upon counties who still restrict their citizens’ freedoms in ways we no longer do.
When the results of this referendum are out, we will be able to hold our heads high and claim a real moral high ground.
Show the world we’re grown up. Vote Yes.

YES! The Big Day has come

So the big day has arrived; no, not the release of my follow-up novel to Leaving the Pack (a second effort that was far from the rushed, written-in-two-months scramble to get another book on the presses much like the second album of a group that spent years perfecting their first, but which still might seem pretty much thrown together!) but the day that the Scots will vote to gain their independence.

I absolutely believe that the yes vote will win. It has to. Nothing else makes sense. As a citizen of a country that had to fight for its independence from the same country (let’s just, for ease equate England with the mainstay of power in Great Britain – after all, that’s the whole point) I can’t imagine that anyone who has been given the chance to gain the same state without any bloodshed would pass up on it. As Howard Zinn said, no war is worth it: and if the Scots had to fight for what they’ll be handed on a platter today, I’d say no, it’s not worth it. Not today, not anymore. It was worth it for us at the time, but times change. It’s worth it for others at the moment (there are too many separatist and civil wars going on to mention) but England is not as bad as it used to be and the situation of the average Scot not so dire.

Of course, they’re still threatening reprisals to stop people voting yes, but those are empty threats. Really.

It sounds a little like (and I am just adding my imagination here, because I have no experience of this) an abusive spouse threatening his/her partner to stop he or she walking out the door. For the sake of brevity, let’s call England the husband and Scotland the abused wife. The analogy is not that far off the mark – if everything actually was “better together” why the hell would there be a vote in the first place? It’s as if the abusive husband has said, “well, fuck you, then. Fuck off and leave me if you really want to. I bet you don’t have the balls to do it, though. You need me more than I need you.” Of course, now it looks like the show of bravado has backfired and the wife really is going away. So the husband has been forced to beg and plead, and yes, threaten. The first threat is that if she goes, then that’s that – no coming back .”If you walk out that door, then don’t come back.”

Bollox. Like any shithead abuser, he’ll be on his knees and crying, embracing her if she does commit the folly of returning, if things really are not better for her alone. Going back to geography for a moment, the British would be delighted if Ireland rejoined the Commonwealth. If we left the Euro and asked to join the pound, they’d be happy, too. What country would not take back another? Did the West Germans say, “No, Easties, we got used to life without you during the last forty years, and really, you’ll just be a drag on us, let’s just maintain the status quo, apart from the odd conjugal visit”? Look at Russia and Ukraine – the big bad bear can’t help trying to pull back a country that really doesn’t want to go back.

No, Scotland, if you really do want to go back one day (and believe me, even if things go to shite, you’ll see that independence is more than worth it – ask any kid who’s left his parent’s luxurious house to live in a bedsit with cardboard box table and no TV) then England will open her arms.

But one thing is not a threat – that you’ll never have this chance again. England will never allow another vote. They know the mistake they made even suggesting you could walk away so easily. They’ll fight any other movement to repeat the vote. If you say no, then you’ll have to fight, and bloodily, for a second opportunity. When it comes to simply walking out on the relationship rather than escaping through a basement window, it’s now or never. And never is a long time.

Someone Else’s Story

Someone Else’s Story.

A prominent activist for conservation and rewilding advocate, he’s got a lot of good reasons the Scots should separate entirely from the UK. They’re being given the chance to do painlessly what many other countries shed much blood for, so they should take it. Later if it doesn’t work out, well, there’s always the chance to join again. After all, their ancestors fought for freedom and then later the countries joined by marriage, so it’s not unprecedented.