Talking Politics
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    By Justine Brian

    Back when the Scottish independence referendum was announced in 2011, I never imagined I would become as forceful supporter of the union as I am today. Yet while I held a visceral reaction to the idea of Scotland breaking away – an instinctive rejection of the Balkanisation of the UK – I could sense that I was very much in the minority among those south of the border. As is now becoming clear from the hysteria gripping the Better Together campaign, that lack of understanding over the value of the union was shared by too many others charged with defending it. 

    So, over the past three years, I’ve become an accidental Unionist, finding myself asked to defend the status quo, the British state, and even the nation state itself. Having been an ardent supporter of Irish freedom not that many years ago, it is not a position which comes naturally. But here I find myself, all the same.

    One of the frustrations for people on my side of the Yes/No divide is the apparent lack of a

    Read More »from I supported Irish freedom. Now I support the union
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    For some time now, England and Wales have had a semi-decriminalisation programme for cannabis. And it has ended up criminalising more cannabis users than ever before.

    But it doesn’t criminalise all cannabis users: it primarily targets people who are young, black or Asian. It is a story of muddle-headed government initiatives, skewed police incentives, racism, drug wars and the old, old habit of treating white people more leniently than everyone else.

    In 2004, when cannabis was made Class C, cannabis warnings were introduced. These were spoken warnings given by a policeman on the street if you were caught with a small amount of weed for personal use. Five years later the drug was returned to Class B, but the cannabis warnings remained. This effectively gave the police discretion in how they treated cannabis possession. The result of this discretion was the disproportionate targeting of black and Asian youths.

    Cannabis warnings are now the first step on the ‘escalator’ system of options

    Read More »from Britain secretly decriminalised cannabis – and it's a disaster
  • By John Hilary

    There is something rotten in the state of Europe when an unelected, unaccountable EU body can glibly inform millions of us that we no longer have the right to question its most dangerous and unpopular policies.

    This is exactly what has just happened, as the European Commission has announced that it will not allow a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to challenge the secret trade talks it is holding with the US government, supposedly on our behalf.

    The ruling is a slap in the face for the 230 civil society organisations from across Europe that have lined up behind the initiative, and the millions of European citizens they represent. The ECI is the only vehicle available to us to challenge the shadowy bureaucrats of the European Commission. Now even this seems to be too much scrutiny for them.

    The negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) have become one of the hottest political topics across Europe. TTIP is effectively a new bill of rights

    Read More »from Outrage as EU blocks democratic challenge to US trade deal
  • An independent Scotland's immigration nightmare

    By Dr Philip Wood

    Alex Salmond’s plans for an independent Scotland involve a number of leaps into the unknown. One of these is the escalation of Scottish migration to a target of 24,000 per year, almost double current levels.

    His policy is a reaction to Scotland’s ageing population, which would give an independent Scotland a dependency ratio much higher than the rest of the UK. This poses serious questions over Scotland’s ability to pay out pensions, a problem exacerbated by the uncertainty expressed in the markets over the prospect of independence, and by Salmond’s own promises to keep the age of retirement at current levels.

    The first minister’s notion that migration can cure the problems of an ageing society has supporters among much of the European elite. However, as Paul Demeny has argued, it is very unclear that the kinds of migration required to offset this kind of demographic change would actually leave any European state “fairer, stronger, richer or (in the long-term)

    Read More »from An independent Scotland's immigration nightmare
  • New polling out today reveals an old truth: that voters don’t like politicians much. But these numbers draw attention to a more pressing problem. Persuading the Scottish to vote ‘no’ next week isn’t much helped by the way Westminster politicians do business.

    Populus talked to 2,040 Brits this time last month for the Institute for Government, and the results aren’t good. It found the public generally don’t believe the parties keep their manifesto promises. Instead they prioritise getting re-elected, scoring political points and making big announcements. Voters would rather they work on fulfilling election promises, working to get taxpayers the best value for money and taking decisions in the country’s long-term interest.

    None of this is new. That doesn’t make it irrelevant to the crisis now engulfing the Better Together campaign.

    The anti-politics vote which propelled Ukip to an unprecedented victory in this year’s European elections could play a decisive role north of the border next

    Read More »from 'Westminster': The toxic word that could help Salmond to victory
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    Panic and intense anxiety don’t have a great effect on decision-making, a recent academic study by American psychologists found. Westminster’s leaders, facing a sudden and unexpected crisis in the Scottish independence referendum campaign, seem to have set out to prove their point.

    The researchers found that the anxious are much more likely to seek and follow advice. David Cameron, who last month admitted he feels “emotional and nervous” about the referendum, yesterday invited Ed Miliband into his office in the Palace of Westminster. The two men - both of whose records will be irretrievably stained if Scotland votes to leave the UK next week - talked over their options after fresh polls confirmed the ‘no’ campaign’s lead has evaporated. It wasn’t clear who suggested that they cancel tomorrow’s PMQs and rush up to Scotland instead. Whichever one it was, the other agreed wholeheartedly.

    For Cameron, Miliband and Nick Clegg too, the instinct to be seen to do something - anything at all -

    Read More »from Our panicked leaders need more than flagpole politics to save the union
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    For many of us, Britain was always the country. The fact it was actually a union of states never mattered. It was true, but irrelevant, like a friend’s middle name. England was a region with pretentions. Britain was the country.

    I know the constitutional definitions, but I don’t care. When I think of my country, I think of Britain. Millions feel as I do. Their voices have been almost entirely wiped out in the last few months. We’ve been made silent and irrelevant. We were written out by the terms of the debate itself.

    But for many people my age, and certainly the vast majority from immigrant families, that was the default setting. In truth, it wasn’t even Britain. I fell in love with the island, this remarkable island, which one could never say anything about without the opposite also being true. It’s reserved, but people down shots and flash their bum on a Saturday night. It’s arrogant, but popularity is based on self-mockery. It’s grotesquely unequal, but everyone always heads to the

    Read More »from Our Britain was never about Westminster
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    The Labour response to the Greens makes them sound like Tories. The Greens are soft on drugs, they say. They’ll bring in higher taxes and pay out more in benefits.

    It’s a telling response, because it vindicates the central argument Caroline Lucas will make at the party convention in Birmingham tomorrow: that the Greens are the only left-wing option available to British voters.

    She’ll say:

    "Labour has not only consistently failed to challenge the illiterate economics of George Osborne’s slash and burn approach to public spending, but Ed Balls has signed up to the same spending limits as the government itself. Secret courts as part of the justice and security bill? Labour refused to oppose [them]. On the appallingly illiberal immigration bill, they abstained. They support workfare sanctions. Even on the issue of bringing the railways back into public ownership – a hugely popular policy – Labour has flunked it."

    The Greens are doing well. They won 6.6% of the vote in May’s local and

    Read More »from Are the Greens the only left-wing party left in Britain?
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    For the first time since the coalition came to power, there has been a rise in positive drug tests in prison. This week’s release of the Prison Performance Digest 2013/14 shows positive results jumped from seven per cent to 7.4%.

    HMP Brixton was the worst, with 19.6% of inmates testing positive, followed by Birmingham with 18.3% and Liverpool with 17.4%.

    The idea that one in fifteen prisoners is on drugs doesn’t seem too bad. And it comes as part of long-term decline in drug use, from 18.3% in 1998. But the mandatory drug tests used to provide the figures don’t tell the whole story. In fact, they are a part of the story themselves. These tests create a perverse incentive in the prison system, pushing users towards untraceable legal highs which are actually more dangerous than many of the illegal drugs they would otherwise use.

    The most popular drugs in jails are heroin and cannabis, which are both smoked. There is too much paraphernalia involved in injections for that to be a viable

    Read More »from Black Mamba: The truth about drugs in prison
  • The trouble with Wormwood Scrubs

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    Wormwood scrubs is in chaos. It is violent and understaffed, with prisoners spending all day in their cells and the number of suicides shooting up. But its failings were entirely foreseeable and preventable. They are the direct personal responsibility of Chris Grayling and his ministers.

    The reasons for the chaos at the Scrubs are two-fold: spending cuts and Grayling’s draconian new prison regime. These have created a perfect storm in which experienced staff were lost, existing staff were overstretched, and prisoners were put in brutalising conditions.

    Prison’s inspector Nick Hardwick, whose report was published this morning, said:

    "Major structural changes in late 2013 had led to a significant reduction of resources. We were told that one consequence of this was that a large tranche of experienced staff had left very quickly and that this had been destabilising, not least because the prison had found it difficult to recruit replacements."

    Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National

    Read More »from The trouble with Wormwood Scrubs

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