Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Mike Rumbles MSP backs ‘Remain’.

Liberal Democrat MSP for North-East Scotland Mike Rumbles has come out in favour of a remain vote in response to my recent call for MSPs to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Last week I received a letter from Mike Rumbles saying that “membership of the European Union has long been a strongly held commitment of the Liberal Democrats and I am proud to say that we are leading a very strong and positive campaign for our continued membership.”
He went on to outline the economic advantages that a remain vote would have for Scotland pointing out that “hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on our trade relationship with our friends in Europe with more than £11 billion of exports from Scotland ending up in other EU countries” as well as the fact that “Scotland is set to receive around £6bn in funding from the EU between 2014 and 2020. More than half of the foreign investment which comes to Scotland is from EU member states.”
He also highlighted how Scottish farmers benefit from EU membership as they receive “vital support through EU funds and their produce is sold right across the continent” adding that he was “disappointed that the Scottish Government has failed these farmers with the delayed Common Agricultural Policy payments.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

Mike also agreed with me that our EU membership also keeps Scotland safe with the European Arrest Warrant “helping to bring criminals across the whole of the continent to justice.”
He finished his letter saying “I believe Scotland’s place in the EU helps ensure that every family, every business, and every person in Scotland is part of a stronger, safer and more prosperous nation.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Mike makes and am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been leading the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

How would Brexit impact UK Mental Health Services?

With the EU referendum coming up in just a few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate as a dedicated mental health activist to outline what impact I predict Brexit would have on mental health services in the UK.
There are three main factors that I think would affect our mental health services if we were to leave the EU, the first of these is the economy.
It is widely accepted that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy with 9 out of 10 economists saying that leaving the EU will damage our economy. The Chief of NHS England, Simon Stevens has claimed that “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold… it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, the economy goes into a tailspin”
Much of the current problems with our mental health services come down to a lack of funding and if funding of the NHS is hit by Brexit, this will surely lead to even less funding for mental health services.

The second factor that I believe will affect mental health services is the loss of EU science funding.
British scientists gain huge amounts of funding for research from the EU and freedom of travel within the EU makes it easier to assemble international teams of leading scientists to cooperate on projects. Our knowledge of mental health is far behind our knowledge of physical health and Brexit would be a blow to research of mental illnesses, their treatments and other aspects of mental health that we are yet to learn. This would slow down the progress we are making in learning how to effectively treat mental illness which will hinder the recovery of sufferers of mental illness for generations to come.

Finally, the EU as an institution is committed to improving the mental health of the continent. In 2005, the European Commission published a Green paper -Promoting the Mental Health of the Population. Towards a Mental Health Strategy for the EU. Following this, the European Pact for mental health and well-being was launched in 2008. The pact was then implemented through numerous conferences tackling priorities such as Combating Stigma and Social Exclusion and Prevention of Depression and Suicide.
I already worry for our mental health services. Currently they are over-stretched and under-funded. Waiting times are excruciatingly long and many people are being left to suffer as a result. I can only see these problems becoming intensified were we to leave the EU and this is part of the reason that as soon as I received my postal vote, I sent it straight back with a big cross next to Remain!

On the economy if we leave the EU

A lot of claims have been made on both sides of the argument. They boil down to a hope that, if separated from the EU, the UK economy will boom. Or to a fear that the economy will suffer if it loses access to the Single Market. Individual businessmen have said how they think any change would affect their business. Most seem to believe leaving would be bad for their business.

The evidence we have is that the pound has fallen on two occasions recently. The first was when the date of the referendum was announced. The second was today when opinion polls showed a majority for leave. The most likely reason in each case is because the market fears uncertainty. Calling the referendum created uncertainty as to the outcome. This uncertainty can be resolved by a decision to remain. If the decision is to leave, the terms of the UK’s relationship, if any, with the EU would need to be negotiated. That would cause the uncertainty to last as long as the negotiations do.

A lower pound means prices go up. Those who do not have much money would have even less. They above all cannot afford a leave vote. The majority of businesses prefer to remain, precisely because they can continue trading as they do now. Leaving would mean no more investment until the relationship with Europe becomes clear, which could take years.

The head of the NHS in England has said that a weaker economy would mean less money for the NHS. The leave campaign is ignoring the economic consequences of leaving the EU. It is behaving like a political party in offering a manifesto for what it would do after a leave vote. But if it spends the money currently going to Brussels on putting right our NHS, it cannot spend the same money on our farmers and scientists. It has no credible way of replacing what the EU spends in the UK, when the UK economy is suffering from prolonged uncertainty.

A referendum has to take a decision. The UK will remain in the EU or not. No referendum can elect a government. The UK has just elected a government, and there is no sign that most MPs are looking to elect another. How the present government would respond to a decision to leave is unclear, but more austerity is likely. If it does have to negotiate leaving the EU, it would have the option of using the money currently sent to Brussels to reduce the deficit. It would be entirely consistent with George Osborne’s track record as Chancellor for him to do just that.

What needs reforming in the EU? Part 3 (of 3)

I have interrupted the blogs on what needs reforming in the EU to discuss sovereignty and immigration. This is because, although claimed not to be, both are in fact fully within UK control. The UK agreed to free movement of labour as well as of capital because both benefit the UK. The other 27 member states accept the UK has the sovereign right to change its mind and leave both the EU and the Single Market. If the UK then wants to be part of the Single Market, it will have to accept its rules. These include free movement of labour, paying towards its costs, and having no say in making its rules. This is the same as for Norway and Switzerland.

What can be negotiated with the EU is what David Cameron has just negotiated. The other member states have confirmed that the Euro is not the currency of the EU. This ensures Eurozone members cannot impose their rules on the UK. They have also agreed an opt-out for the UK from ‘ever closer union’. This ensures the UK will not take part in any United States of Europe. It is now up to the UK government to do what it should have done decades ago for the British people. It will also have to deal with the consequences of immigration.

What still needs reforming in the EU is the attitude of political leaders in most member states. Most people in Europe support the European project as a mean of making war unthinkable. Those who have led that project have had a very top-down attitude to achieving it. They have put creating the structures of Europe before solving the problems their people want sorted. The UK is not the only country whose leaders prefer just to manage the economy and public finances. Constructing the Single Market with the necessary free movement of labour has highlighted all the long-standing infrastructure and social problems. That is why nationalism is on the rise in Europe. The rise of nationalism risks wrecking all the progress in building peace and prosperity which has been achieved since WWII.

Some of the EU’s politicians seem finally to have realised that Brexit is possible. They also see that the European project could unravel if it happens. If the UK decides to remain, it is very important that all governments start to address their own internal problems. This would be easier if at the same time they work together to make the EU more effective. Policy decisions in areas where the member states have agreed to cooperate would then be taken and implemented more rapidly. This work to reform decision-making in the EU will have the chance to happen, with British input, if we vote to remain on 23rd June.

On immigration

Those campaigning to leave the EU claim that this is the only way to prevent people coming into the UK. I would have two questions. First, is it a bad thing that other people want to come here to work? On the face of it, it means that there are plenty of jobs in the UK. Second, how would the NHS cope without workers from overseas?

In my experience, there are genuine concerns about immigration. They relate most often to fears about housing and jobs. Will immigrants crowd local people out of work? Will immigrants crowd local people out of homes? These fears are real, and come from years of British governments failing to sort the problems people have. Not enough homes have been built. Money has been pumped into mortgages. These two factors together make houses more expensive and price people out of the housing market. The affordable homes owned by councils were sold off, so they were not there for the next generation. The Tories now want to do the same thing to housing associations in England. Other infrastructure, like schools, hospitals and transport, has not kept pace with population changes. Local authorities have been starved of cash. They are now unable to act as proper local government but simply administer central government policy.

None of this is the fault of the EU. Nor would it change if the UK left the EU. Imagine the UK votes to leave on 23rd June, and stops paying money to the EU. Would the Treasury really spend this money on doing what no government has done for decades? It would be much more likely to use it all to pay down the deficit. That would be consistent with George Osborne’s policy of a smaller state.

Much the same applies to jobs. Everyone should have the opportunity to work. Some of the jobs, such as in agriculture, involve unsocial hours that not everyone is willing to accept. Others involve skills that not everyone has. Education should be about helping individuals to find out what they are good at, what they like doing, and which can be the basis of a long-term job. Everyone living in Britain should have these opportunities. In reality, there is a shortage of some types of skill, which is why some workers are hired from overseas. Some foreign workers are more ready to work for low pay at anti-social hours. Leaving the EU would just mean the UK would recruit workers from other foreign countries to fill the gaps in its job market. Helping British people into jobs needs a concerted effort to help them find what they can do in today’s job market, and give them the skills they need.

Five Things Nigel Farage Doesn’t Want You to Know

Nigel

Whilst reading through the comments sections of UKIP’s Facebook posts it’s clear that many people are currently less than impressed with the European Union.
And with all the horror stories being spread it’s not hard to see why. According to Nigel Farage and his Eurosceptic party, not only are we paying an immense amount of money just for membership; we are also seeing a ‘massive oversupply’ of foreign labour forcing British wages down.

But is the EU really that bad? Here are five facts that Nigel really doesn’t want you to know:

1. European workers aren’t a threat to your job.

In the last few years, 9 out of 10 British Jobs have gone to British people.
Contrary to what far-right parties such as UKIP and the BNP would have you believe, immigrants aren’t that big of a threat to the employability of British people.
If however you do find your job threatened by people moving here from Romania in search of a better life, armed with with no money or qualifications and a limited grasp of the English language, then perhaps the EU’s free movement of people isn’t what’s holding you back…

This may leave you wondering, “what about that one job in ten that’s not going to a hard-working British person?”
Well calm down you inquisitive devil! That brings me to my next point…

 

2. European workers actually create jobs.

1 out of 7 of every new business formed in Britain is created by people who move here from within the EU.
Believe it or not this means that people migrating here from Europe are actually creating jobs, 9 out of 10 of which will go to British people.
So if you think it’s hard enough finding a job now, just try it without all of those companies created by European immigrants.

So now you know that British jobs are safe, but what about the benefits tourists that you’ve seen on shows like ‘Benefits Street’?
Admittedly there are those who wish to take advantage of the generosity of our welfare system, however…

 

3. We profit from immigration!

There’s no denying that things like benefits tourism are a problem. The NHS currently spends £1.5 billion a year on non-active EU migrants. However from 2001 to 2011, Britain gained £22 billion in tax from the EU migrants who do work.

Basically, immigration pays for itself and more.

Whilst I wont suggest for a second that abusing British benefits and our world-class health service is acceptable, leaving the EU and thus slashing immigration would see the country lose a lot of money. Our NHS would then subsequently struggle more than it currently does with allegedly lazy immigrants. In a time of so many cuts; could our hospitals, our military and our police force really cope with even more cuts to funding because we no longer have the same volume of immigrants working hard and paying their taxes?

Speaking of our police force… did you know that one of our best crime-fighters comes from the EU?

 

4. The EU helps us catch bad guys.

The European Arrest Warrant is “an essential weapon in the fight against organised crime”.
Those aren’t my words, those are in fact the words of Sir Hugh Orde who just so happens to be Head of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

It plays a pivotal part in making European countries work together so that they can extradite foreign criminals to be shipped home and punished in their own country.
Leaving the EU would mean giving up the European Arrest Warrant and therefore delaying the extradition of foreign criminals on British Soil.

Finally, the last fact that Mr Farage really doesn’t want you to know is…

 

5. Ed Milliband isn’t the only political leader who doesn’t look that good whilst eating a bacon sandwich!

nigel-farage-bacon_3059997k
You saw it here first folks!

 

UKIP’s campaign relies on you believing that the EU is a terrible thing for British people when in reality, it may be imperfect but it still benefits us massively.
This is why the Liberal Democrats take an unashamedly pro-EU stance whilst also recognizing the need for reform.

Don’t let Nigel fool you in the upcoming general election, learn the facts!

Lib Dem Achievements in Government

Over the last few weeks, I have been disappointed to hear fellow Liberal Democrats repeat the accusations of our opposition, and in particular certain portions of the national media who have been desperately trying to portray Lib Dems in a negative light.  There is a continuing misconception that the Liberal Democrats sacrificed too much to the Conservatives during coalition negotiations. Here’s the real story of what we have achieved in Government.

This document is already 3 months old, so the list has grown since then, but it is a good starting point.

Lib Dem Achievements in Government

 

After the first TV debate during the General Election campaign, our opponents recognised that Nick Clegg was our strongest asset.  Since the morning of the second debate, there has been a sustained attack on him personally and on the reputation of the party as a whole.  Even Ed Milliband has resorted to personal attacks on Nick Clegg.  It is disgraceful, gutter politics.  Unfortunately, if you throw enough mud, it will eventually stick.

Nick Clegg is the antithesis of Teflon Tony Blair.  His record, as demonstrated above, is one to be proud of.  I for one, do not think I could cope with excrement posted through my door, my effigy being burnt, being called a traitor and receiving death threats and still come out fighting the way that Nick Clegg did at the Sheffield Lib Dem Conference.

I cannot agree with those in the party that take the attitude that they are in politics to fight Conservatism as a result of Thatcher’s legacy.  Saying that we would only go into a coalition with a discredited, illiberal, economically incompetent Labour Party would doom our party into subservience.

I came into politics and joined the Lib dems to make a difference on issue that I cared about, whether it was the environment, children’s welfare or civil liberties.  I believe in the values of the party, that local people know best about their area, that solutions should last and that everyone deserves a fair chance.

Those values, issues and policies are now being successfully implemented in Government, and it is a record that we should all be proud of.