Saturday, 3 February 2018

Sammy it's not about scare stories but opportunities

I do love it when I get to school my one time Economics teacher Sammy Wilson especially when it is about economics. When I read that Sammy Wilson (my teacher for the final term of 1986-7) said Loyalists were applying for Irish passports due to Brexit scare stories I had to laugh.

Sammy should know all about cost benefit analysis especially when it comes to "opportunity cost". In economics this is the value of the next-highest-valued alternative use of that resource. In this case it the cost of time on travelling on holiday. Everyone born on the island of Ireland is entitled to apply for an Irish Passport and the Good Friday Agreement allows everyone in the Northern Ireland to identify as British, Irish or Both. So there is no need for loyalists to renounce their British citizenship to get and Irish Passport.

The other thing to look at then is what people in Northern Ireland use their passport for. As photographic ID to get on flights to the rest of the UK. The UK has promised that the UK/Ireland agreement on freedom of movement will not be changed post Brexit and neither have the Irish who also want a frictionless border.

Next there is holiday flights, most short haul locations that are popular would be in the EU so there is an potential opportunity benefit in being able to go through the EU passport holders queue rather than the non-EU queue. I once had to bring a group of largely non-EU residents into the country at Dover. I whizzed straight through but as the leader of the group hung around in case there was any issues with the members of the group, all but one of the other leaders also being non-EU. I was there long after the majority of EU passengers were safely on their way. Post Brexit going to Spain, Greece, Amsterdam of anywhere else will see more scrutiny of an UK passport or at least be in a queue with people who face more scrutiny no matter what the best outcome is.

Finally there is longer-haul flights and in recent times with the improved road to Dublin and the express bus from Belfast to Dublin Airport a lot more people in Northern Ireland will fly from Dublin to America that maybe catching a flight to London and transferring. So having an Irish passport at Dublin Airport would be a breeze.

Sammy Wilson, the DUP and their Conservative friends have yet to give firm answers as to what will happen post Brexit so many people are looking at it objectively. The costs of having an Irish passport instead of a British one are negligible in monetary terms, but the benefits in terms of time outweigh any additional cost. Therefore it is economically opportune to take up an Irish passport ahead of Brexit, if things aren't worse afterwards they can always get a British one when it is time to renew but that will be based on experience rather than promising utopia in all things post-Brexit. As no matter how much Sammy et al are in cloud cuckoo land about Brexit not everything will be as it is now.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Suicide, the DUP and Me

Today I head that a friend, fellow LGBT+ activist and member of another political party has been suspended from a suicide prevention charity because of comments he posted linking suicide with the DUP. Just under a year ago a member of my close extended family committed suicide. Looking back at the draft I attempted to write at the time a number were trying to address that subject in a relevant way but they never really hit the mark or passed my standards for pressing publish. This time I hope this is different*.

I first considered taking my life in the 80s when I was 15/16 it was a grey day down by the docks as I contemplated jumping in the cold waters off the pier. It was during the period that the DUP were still attempting to safe Ulster from Sodomy. It was a phrase I had heard often, it was a phrase that even at that time I knew was directed at me although at the time I was attempted to fight who I was. 

I didn't jump as you can tell as I am here writing this but that was far from the last time I half felt depressed because of my sexuality.

I went to tertiary education in Kingston starting at the Polytechnic but graduating with a University degree in total I spent 10 years learning to be and to love me, but at the same time still fighting being me. I had grown in confidence, I had grown into an adult me, I was more in control of who I was and more able to defend what I stood for. Something that happened very early on in an Economics tutorial being able to defend a position that was opposite to that of the tutor.

It was in the five years I was back in Northern Ireland that I first really came out. However, this was also a time when I became anxious once again over who I was. My parents reaction was good, as was that of those I worked with and played bowls with. However, before too long I was over in Scotland and away from Northern Ireland for another 8 years. 

However, let me tell you what still knocks me most, makes me most depressed and on occasion leads me to fight suicidal thoughts. It is the times politicians or church people run me down for being gay. The language they use, the assumptions they make about how I live and the way they keep doing it. Now I am mostly able to stand my own when facing these debates. Like a good student I am well prepared with all the background reading I would need and more. I know the facts, I know the etymology of the verses that clergy will quote at me, sometimes better than they do.

However, there are times that continually doing so, or just having a tough time standing up for myself does lead to depression. I reckon it I weren't stronger I would not still be here. If I didn't have the support of many good friends both of faith and without I would be just another statistic. There are certainly some members of the DUP who may prefer that I was a statistic rather than a thorn in their side a constant reminder in their inbox for them to ignore. 

The thing is that the DUP in my experience tend to ignore when anyone raises LGBT+ issues with them. So I am please that they are meeting with the Equal Marriage campaigners here. However, while their representatives may block me out the same cannot be done for them or their supporters. I need to stay abreast of the news and current events and often we here the hateful comments about LGBT+ people on our TVs, Radios or Newspapers. It is something I wish I could avoid but at the same time know I have to respond to, stand up to and be heard. This is not just for me but for those who are the shy me that I was in my teens, the insecure me, the scared me and the suicidal me.

So while the DUP are ignoring reports that do show that LGBT+ people are more likely to have self-harm and suicidal intentions, someone who points out that they don't take action is suspended for doing so. I certainly feel more suicidal when I'm being called abnormal, an abomination or have a deviant lifestyle. This mostly comes as a direct result from Northern Irish politicians and Northern Irish Christians, when people accept me strangely I don't feel like that.

So is there a direct link between the institution homophobia for the DUP and self-harm and suicide?

Considering the party not only have never voted for any positive LGBT+ legislation but have petitioned of concerned every bill that has come before the NI Assembly. Their elected representatives are amongst the most vocal in belittling LGBT+ people with words whether in political chambers or debates on media. 

In my personal opinion there certainly is a constant straw attempting to break the camel's back. It has not yet got all the way through but on occasion it has been close. Whether from the DUP, religious leaders or ordinary members of the church I was born into all have at times come close to me committing suicide.

*Even after writing that at the start there are still parts of this I have not included in the above despite the length.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Cycle of Brexit: Endangering the Norwegian Model

So it appears that rather that following the Norwegian model of living with the EU Theresa May's vision for what Brexit means looks like it is endangering it.

Norwegian officials have warned Brussels that they are watching negotiations over Brexit closely. If a special deal is reached with the UK this will lead to Norway looking at renegotiating the terms under which it operates with the EU. The fact that May's government wants out of the Customs Union and out of the Single Market while still maintaining favourable conditions of trade and access with the EU is not looking good for countries like Norway who have reached an agreement with the EU and remain outside.

At a time when countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also looking to enter the Customs Union the stance that the UK is taking means we are no longer having to appease just 27 other counties. There are also the additional 4 countries in the European Free Trade Association1, the 6 with Stabilisation and Association Agreements2, the 3 in the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area3 as well as the 4 with bi-lateral Customs Union arrangements4. In other words all of Europe until you get to Belarus and Russia.

Now you have to consider that some of the EU nations who border or surround some of those countries affected do more trade with them than the UK. When it comes to consideration of the remaining 27 EU nations all accepting the Brexit deal. The threat of Norway and potentially the others looking to also renegotiate their deal with the EU means that the chances of the special deal that May, David Davis and Boris Johnson say they can get looks less and less likely to happen. The EU cannot afford to give special terms to one nation who pulls out of the EU if it impacts on the deal they have with 17 other nations that the EU also has deals in place with. Effectively Britain is up against 44 not just 27 other nations when we sit at the negotiating table.

If the other 17 are paying something to the EU to benefit from their deals to help them trade with the EU and the UK refuse to pay anything we can expect to get nothing. Seventeen countries willing to pay for special access to the EU is going to be more beneficial than allowing one country to have access who is paying nothing. The Brexiteers have been playing high stakes poker with a bluff in their hand. It is the smaller stacks at the table from the associated nations who the EU will be gauging now that the UK has gone all in. That revenue flow is important to them, they may yet call on our all or nothing bet.

If the UK scrambles away from the EU with nothing David Davis hasn't run the impact reports, but Scotland has. Is it worth it?


1 Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein
2 Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kosovo
3  Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine
4 Turkey, Andorra, Monaco and San Marino

Thursday, 11 January 2018

EU Court rules definition of Marriage now includes same-sex marraige

One of the leading arguments the pro-Brexit, anti-Equal marriage unionist DUP have used to say that the marriage laws in the rest of the United Kingdom do not apply here is that the EU don't define marriage that way.

Until now.

Today the Advocate General of the European Court has said the "definition of marriage has now evolved to include same-sex couples". He also calls on all member states to recognise same-sex marriages that have taken place in other member states. The word spouse most now not only apply to opposite sex couples.

This may course interesting IF the Northern Ireland Assembly can get back up and running. Currently same-sex marriage from other parts of the UK are relegated to civil partnerships. However, if the right of spouses of any marriage have to be recognised that will have to change. It means that same-sex marriages would have to be recognised as marriages in Northern Ireland and takes us one step closer to hopefully allow same-sex marriages to take place here as well.

No doubt the DUP will try and come up with some other excuse quoting their rapidly shrinking list of countries that do not recognise same-sex marriage. Saying after years of quoting EU court definitions that we are about to leave and that should now apply to us now. Bear in mind that the DUP have uses Great British law when it agrees with them, over marriage they used Irish law after the British didn't along with EU. Now that even the EU laws are changing where next?

The DUP are losing the argument and soon and very soon I hope to see marriage equality, not just same-sex marriage come to Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Feeling Used - Confession of a Gay Christian Lib Dem

It has been a long time since I have blogged and that is not really like me. Today I am once again not feeling well it has been a tough 12 months for me health-wise. However, something has happened today that makes me feel used that makes me feel like I have to write.

Speaking today on Premier Christian Radio the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has said that he now regrets the statement he made during the last general election when he said he did not think gay sex was a sin. This is the latest in the line of remarks he has made since he stood down as leader of the party that has worried me.

I am on record in this very blog as being one of the first LBGT+ Lib Dems to support his bid for the leadership. Based on the conversations I have had with him in person and online about LGBT+ issues and his and my faith.

In my case of course I feel ostracised from the Christian community for being gay and from the LGBT+ community for being a Christian. Now of course Tim Farron is able to support the Lib Dem idea of marriage equality because as a true liberal, LGBT, Christian I knew that the state had no right to interfere in how individual faith groups govern themselves. No LGBT+ Christian wants a faith group to marry them in a same sex marriage that doesn't want them.

Today however now I'm not sure if all the conversations I have had with Tim have really seen the progress I thought I had seen. I'm not longer sure if my sharing of my struggles led to him making the decisions he had done or whether this was for expediency and acceptance within the party. I know there are members of my party who are Christians who have risked their position within their church for standing up for LGBT+ issues.

Tim is saying that one group that did not give him advise from within party HQ was fellow Christians. Yet I know many within the party who are Christians of all backgrounds who have been supportive of all that the LGBT+ Lib Dems have brought forward. I also know some who have been against. But nobody shall be enslaved by conformity is and underlying core value of our party. The equal marriage policy that our party brought forward into law allowed freedom for religion and religions. Somehow today it feels that some of the Christians and one of the most prominent ones regrets having allowed freedom from religion.

One of friends in politics who took the other stance when Tim made those comments  during the general election today has said he expects acts of contrition, maybe this is what this is or maybe I was just used and had wool pulled over my eyes. 

Have I been played? Have I been used? Tonight I don't have the answers. But I do feel hurt by the comments today taking back a comment I lauded at the time it was made. Something I said at the time that proved the leader got it and stood by his liberalism above all else.

Now? Who knows?

Monday, 25 September 2017

Trumping the Knee

So Donald Trump having seen the majority of NFL players take the knee, link arms or not appear on the field and run a weak D*.

He has tweeted (what else) the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. He tweeted this immediately after the tweeted that some fans booed during the National Anthem at those same players.

Now let me get something straight here:

Taking the knee is something those that serve the Country and Flag do to show respect. Respect to fallen comrades.

The take the knee movement that started last pre-season in the NFL after a summer in which a number of innocent African-Americans were shot by white police officers. It started with one player and has spread, this weekend including Baseball and with the backing of other sports.

Also during the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s taking the knee was non-violent protest of people praying and contemplation.

So Mr Trump is ignoring history and ignoring reality if he says taking the knee has nothing to do about race.

But here's another thing what about those players who didn't take the knee. Many of them this weekend stood behind and beside their team mates. Instead of hand on heart as normal many of these linked arms. Just like this:

Yes as Martin Luther King Jr and others marched to Selma they too linked arms in the same way. The symbols that teams across the NFL showed on Sunday from London to LA have everything to do with race. The continued racism of some and oppression of black America.

Some of those who have song the Anthem in recent weeks have also started to take the knee. So you can sing the Anthem showing you love for the nation and still protest that the America you want can be better, can be greater.

Now back to those who booed the plyers who took the knee. A lot of this happened during the national Anthem. Not a peaceful protest but a verbal one. Surely that is disrespecting the flag, country and anthem.

So Donald if you truly want to make America great you have to do so for all Americans. You have to respect all the cultures that make up the culture of America. Respect those who exercise their freedom of speech as enshrined in the Bill of Rights to protest peacefully, even if that protest is against you. Indeed you should defend their right to protest, even if you disagree with what that say as long as they do it in a peaceful, non-violent way, even if that protest is aimed at you. That Mr President is democracy. That Mr President is the land of the brave and the home of the free.

If you respect their rights as enshrined in the Bill of Rights maybe then you will show the respect to your office that is yours in passing.

*Defence for non-NFL fans

Saturday, 23 September 2017

The EU has been an integral part of my life Mrs May

Yesterday in her Florence speech Theresa May said:

"The UK never felt a part of the European Union.The European Union, never felt to us an integral part of our story"

I beg to differ.

I sitting writing this in the house that my parents moved into in 1979 on the day of the first UK elections to the European Parliament. So even from then I new about Europe and that it was a part of our lives.

I went to University in Kingston at the end of the 80s and took as one of my options in both 2nd and 3rd year European Economics. It became something of a speciality of mine and my fellow students would often come to me if they needed to know how the mechanics of the European Union, Schengen Area, or then the exchange rate mechanism pre-Euro worked. I even had the horror of listening to parliament on the radio one evening while finalising an essay on our place in the EU on the day of the Maastricht Treaty debate and had to amend my argument slightly and quote from that debate before handing it in at 12 the following day.

I like many others have enjoyed fast access to the EU nations, especially when compared to those non-EU (or now EU) ones that I have also experienced whenever I go to continental Europe, whether for holiday or work. Indeed I have two wallets my every day one which contains Sterling or my other one for days trips to Dublin or Donegal and longer trips to the continent that contain Euros. You see I never change my Euros back into pounds as I know they will be used again at some point.

Indeed my stamp collection of Olympic stamps I base on a Euro price as a lot of the dealers that I purchase from on Ebay are based in Europe so I have to know if I paying a fair price for the items I am purchasing. When you are looking for the remaining 5/6ths of the worlds Olympic stamps that can be important for a Philatelist. With either the Euro, Sterling or US Dollar there are only three currencies I deal in both to buy and sell.

The job that I worked in while I lived on Edinburgh for 10 years would not have existed without us being integral in Europe. When you have working in a multi-lingual, Europe-wide support environment with EU nationals doing skilled work alongside you, you know you are an integral part of Europe. That is why I suspect London voted heavily to remain out of all the areas of England because they like me feel an integral part of Europe in their workplace, leisure time and neighbourhoods.

So Theresa May while you have spent you're working life in the Westminster bubble and maybe therefore think you have not been an integral part of the EU. Remember those times you passed laws to make our law, products, even our currency compatible with the rest of Europe. Europe has been an integral part of my entire life of now 48 years so don't throw it all away because people from your generation don't realise how integral it is. The reason you have yet to come up with creative ways to deal with Brexit is because of how integral Europe has become in our live not because it hasn't.

Your Brexit means Brexit argument that we have to come out of Europe completely is like a heart and lung transplant. The only problem we are facing is that even with your 2 year transition period while the UK is on a ventilator we have no organs yet to replace the European heart and lungs that are in the UK you are about to remove.