Sunday, 31 July 2016

Europa Neurotisch

It is the weekend.  It is hot here and my brain is frying and I have a few days off work.  Hooray.  This is no time to be writing about German work visas when there is an extended weekend of fun to be had.  Instead, let's go for a trip down Euro-memory lane before I jump on a train for a short break in the land of lederhosen and delicious beer. You can skip all the reminiscing and go straight to the the main point in the last paragraph but then you'll never know what you're missing out on.

When I was a boy growing up in South Glasgow in the 80s I used to listen in to European radio stations in my bed before I went to sleep. I even got a special shortwave radio for Christmas that had a micro-tuning knob to better track the shifting broadcast signals. (You're right,  I don't have a girlfriend.  Happy now?  Can we continue without those snide remarks, please? Thank you.) The randomness of AM broadcasting meant that I listened to whatever happened to have good reception. Sometimes that was Russian state radio reporting in English about increased tractor production in the Urals and Breshnev's visit to a flower festival in Fergana. When the earth's magnetic field was conspiring against global communism I would listen in to random Belgian, Dutch and German pop stations. The DJs came from the same school as Glasgow's very own Tiger Tim Stevens but the strange words and not-quite-right pop music kept me hooked in a way that Radio Clyde never could. If one station faded out I could spin the dial a few degrees and choose from 20 others. Just imagine all that life out there, a world far beyond Calder Street swimming pool,  Friday night Boys' Brigade and my Gran's potato croquettes.


Europe has always felt like a strange home to me, simultaneously exotic and familiar.  Can you imagine "Trans-Europe Express" if you replaced all the stops with Hull, Manchester and Kirkcaldy? Yet, when you go on a Trans-Europe express it isn't all that much different from a train journey across Scotland or from Glasgow to London. Sometimes the train stops in a major city, sometimes you go past some fields or spy a mountain in the distance or find yourself staring at an abandoned factory complex. Despite that, I still have a sense that European train travel is impossibly glamorous and refined. Just last week I saw the overnight Zurich-Prague train about to depart Zurich's main station.  With the advent of cheap air travel it seemed like a journey backwards in time as well as to the Czech Republic. You can imagine that it completely made my evening, thinking about the complicated politics of the train and the positive changes it must have seen since the fall of communism and the end of borders in Europe. I could even have jumped on that train without needing to go home for my passport.  What a time to be alive. What's more, Brexit doesn't affect the train or my ability to jump on it and enjoy the journey. Let's take the positives where we can.


Anyway, so much for my trip down memory lane.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did because it it's time to get back to 2016 and see what is going on in the here and now. Urgh, it doesn't look too good.

Careful you don't set fire to your shirt, there.
I'm guessing not everyone shares my lifelong romantic ideas of continental living, then.  That's fine, we're not all the same, but does it need to mean this, this, this, this,  this and this?  I could easily go on but I'm sure you get the picture by now. I'm guessing none of these people stayed up late back in the 80s to listen to Schlager hits on Radio Bochum.  Actually, I can't imagine many people did that, except for the good people of Bochum (say hi to Bernd if you ever get to Bochum, great guy).

It just occurred to me that you never hear anyone come right out and say that being an EU citizen is  f***king great.  Nobody ever says that and I'm at a complete loss as to why. The Remain campaign lost because nobody could bring themselves to talk about the positives of EU membership.  Seriously, if the Remain campaign had been marketing ice-cream they would have focused on how brushing your teeth regularly can counteract the dental decay caused by all that sugar. After that they would have yelled at us that we'd be glad to have ice-cream if we lived in a world where the only available food was ice-cream. Imagine that, we would theoretically all die a horrible and lingering death if there was no ice-cream to save us from starvation.  They would never have come out and said that ice-cream is basically awesome and comes in a range of delicious flavours and don't worry too much about your teeth because plans are being discussed around Europe to limit the sugar content and set minimum standards on dental floss.   

This has been a meandering post, hasn't it? Hey, it's a holiday weekend, my brain is too hot and sometimes I just like to prattle on about trains and radios.  Don't worry, though, as promised I'm going to really get to the point now.  If you are a UK national working in or around the EU there needs to be a plan A and a plan B.   The plan B is finding out about EU Blue Cards or how to get citizenship in your chosen land. I've touched on some of that already and it is a thrilling topic with endless philosophical consequences moderately interesting.   The plan A, if you're Scottish, is to remain in the EU with Scotland an independent nation.

Scotland might soon be faced with the choice of staying in the  EU or the UK.   If Scotland is to remain in the EU then there will need to be a campaign to promote the values of the EU and demonstrate that EU membership is completely ace, despite all its faults. Think of it as a popularity contest that the EU must win.  It will now be the purpose of this blog to pursue plan A as much as plan B.  So, expect posts about the working time directive and the ERASMUS scheme, the ECHR and  the ECB. There will still be meandering trips down memory lane, links to pop videos with semi-appropriate song titles and not-hilarious anecdotes.  Boy, this is going to be a thrilling journey.

Over and out,

Terry

PS Drake is no longer Nr 1 in the hit parade.  Are we entering a new era of consciousness?

PPS You're probably thinking, "17 posts in and he just worked out what his blog would be about?" Well, that Brexit result really knocked me for six.  I think everyone is still working out how to react.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Another chat about borders

If you're reading today's post hoping for more uninformed chit-chat about post-Brexit EU workers' rights then this post probably isn't for you.  Today, I'm going to carry on with yesterday's uninformed chit-chat about borders.  It turns out that borders are chimeric cyphers of societal truths places of limited interest where you sometimes have to pay tax and wait in a short queue.

Yesterday, I said that I fully expected there to be a customs border between an independent Scotland and a post-Brexit England.  Likewise, in time I fully expect there to be a customs border between Ireland and a post-Brexit Northern Ireland.  I also described the Swiss/German border to illustrate what might happen.  Here is a picture of the exciting border at Koblenz just in case you missed it first time.

It doesn't get any more exicitng second time round.
Why might something akin to the Swiss/German be replicated just north of Carlisle?  If you're interested to learn the answer then read on because there is a small chance that I will provide a satisfactory explanation. There may also be a not-hilarious anecdote and a link to a pop video with a semi-appropriate song title.  Then again, there might not. Enjoy.

Imagine the year 2018.  It is an amazing time with sex robots to attend to our every desire;  Drake is still Nr 1 in the Hit Parade with "One Dance"; and there is a new gangster character in Eastenders exactly like all the old ones.  Also, the UK has finally left the EU, while Scotland has declared independence  and joined the EU as a continuing member.  The bit about sex robots has no real bearing on the rest of this post so if you are into that you might want to look at the rest of the internet for your kicks.

One of the slogans of the EU referendum was "Taking back control".  Many people took that to mean taking back control of the borders.  Given that, it would be kind of weird if the UK Prime Minister didn't try to leverage some of that extra border control for political advantage.  How might that happen?  Let's imagine Theresa May decides to help Welsh steel workers by imposing a whopping tariff on all imported steel.  This is the sort of freedom open to the new government after they leave the EU - the freedom to follow isolationist and mercantile economic policy.  As a consequence, the price of steel in rUK (remaining UK) increases.  This is bad news if you live in Sunderland and manufacture the steel hulls of those amazing sex robots.  Congratulations, the unit price of your main component just went up and you're already having a hard enough time exporting to the EU due to all that sex robot red tape.  What to do?  Ha, just get your steel shipped through Scotland.  Scotland, remember, will still be in the EU and subject to much lower import tariffs that are applied uniformly across all EU member states.  As a consequence, it will still be possible to import cheap Chinese steel through Edinburgh.  It adds to your costs a little bit but not nearly as much as paying the true cost of Welsh steel.  How many companies in rUK would switch their steel supplies to Welsh manufacturers if they could just import it at a fraction of the price from Scotland?  Not many.  Those Welsh steel workers won't see any difference at all.  Another government policy will have dismally failed, almost as badly as the cones hotline or hug-a-hoodie.  The obvious solution is a customs border that adds a levy to all steel crossing from Scotland to England.  Steel transiting from Scotland to England will need to be treated just like steel transiting from Calais to England. 

Wait a minute, you're thinking, I pulled a fast one there.  You're not going to let me get away with that kind of cheap trick : the rUK government and the Scottish government can surely come to an agreement about imported steel.  Two countries with a long trading history can't come to a simple deal? Absolutely not.  In fact, if the Scottish government were to come to a deal about imported steel that would result in the invocation of Article 7 of the Lisbon treaty.  The key point here is that commercial agreements with nations outside the EU can only be agreed and adopted EU-wide.  Just ask the Swiss government if you want to know the details.  If Theresa May wishes to help Welsh steel workers through tariffs she will either need a tariff agreement with the EU or a customs border somewhere just north of Carlisle.  There is simply no point in the rUK Prime Minister making a phone call to Holyrood, unless she wants to find out if it is still raining up there.

I hope by now you get the idea.  The customs border might be brought about by steel tariffs, alcohol taxation, discrepancies in VAT or sex robot regulations.  Sooner or later there will be calls to implement economic policy at the border.  Those calls might come from within the EU, from an independent Scotland or they might come from rUK.  Who do you think will be first to blink? It doesn't really matter because the exact mechanism that led to the customs border will be long forgotten by the time a border guard is poking around a multi-pack of toilet roll in the boot of your car and demanding to see the receipt.

No not-hilarious anecdote today.  Hah, I tricked you but I think that sex robot chatter was quite enough to be getting on with.  I am not a complete liar so here is a link to a pop video with a semi-appropriate song title. Filmed in Carlisle, I believe.  Take it away, M.I.A. 



Update: The FT are talking about the Anglo/Irish border today.  Bloody heck, what a mess.



Over and out,

Terry

PS That is probably enough about borders for the moment. My next post might be about German work visas. Thrilling stuff if you are a UK worker in the EU.



Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Is that a Wallonian pencil in your pocket?

This post is a bit of a digression from my usual banging on about the future rights of UK workers in the EU. Today, I'm going to talk about EU borders and what life is like if you are on the other side of the EU border.  I can only really speak of the Swiss/German border but I can't imagine there is anything special there that isn't replicated, say, on the Swiss/French border.  If you've never been to the Swiss/EU border then you might find it interesting to read what life is like there, how it makes life slightly more complicated and what kind of legal workarounds have developed over the years.  If you support Scottish independence then this might really be of interest because in your ideal world (and mine) there will be an EU border somewhere just north of Carlisle.  What might we find there a few years down the line?  I'm afraid this kind of statement might turn out to be no more than an optimistic soundbite reported by a "journalist".

If you've followed the witterings of this blog you will already know that I support Scottish independence and that for all sorts of personal and professional reasons I really, really value my EU status.  Pretty much the only route for me to maintain my EU citizen status is Scottish independence followed by automatic EU entry as a continuing nation.  If you've followed the independence debate then you'll also know that the Scotland/England border has been a matter of some contention over the years.  At the 2014 independence referendum there were all sorts of claims that the remainder of the UK would put a massive border fence at the Scottish border with passport checks and all sorts of time-intensive bureaucracy.  That was obvious guff.  Let's think for a second why that was obvious idiocy back in the heady days of 2014.  Well, there are two types of border:  customers border and passport border.   Assuming Scotland had been accepted into the EU (another point of contention but IT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED SO SHUT UP AND STOP GOING ON ABOUT IT) both Scotland and England would have remained in the EEA.  There would simply have been no need for a customs border because no taxes would have been due on any goods transiting between Scotland and England.  In fact, that would have been illegal under EU law.  A passport border would only have been necessary if Scotland had signed up to the Schengen agreement.  Nobody was advocating that back then or now.  An individual passing from an independent Scotland to England would have done so just as a cyclist on the Austrian/Slovakia border might hop across and back again multiple times on a Sunday ride along the Danube.  Replace Austria/Slovakia with Norther Ireland/Ireland and I'm sure you get the idea why border checks or patrols would never have happened. 

The case for independence in 2016 is rather different from the one back in 2014 because it involves Scotland staying in the EU while England exits. This changes the game somewhat.  I should state now that a passport border is highly unlikely because Scotland, remaining UK and Ireland can easily agree their own mini-Schengen zone.  It might look exactly like the Common Travel Area.  However, I simply don't think it is so easy to discount the likelihood of a customs border.  Why not? Well, I live in Switzerland and see the customs border every time I go to Constanz for cheap shopping.

What does the Switzerland/German border look like?  Well, it looks like this if you go on a sunny day:

The action-packed German/Swiss border at Koblenz.

There are similar borders all the way down the Rhine:  Jestetten, Bad Zurzach, Konstanz.   These are customs-only borders because Switzerland is a signatory to the Schengen agreement.  There is no need to take a passort with you but you might need some documentation for your shipment of Drake CDs.   Is he still number 1 in the hit parade?

I regularly see those borders when I go out for a cycle.  Sometimes the borders are manned, sometimes there is nobody working there at all, sometimes the guards look like they are too lazy to do any actual work.  There is no fence or anything like that so you could choose a slightly different route to avoid it.  Ocassionally, though, there are even temporary spot-checks on the smaller roads.  If you're unlucky you might get pulled over by a customs guard and he'll ask you nosy questions about what you have in the boot.   I've seen that a few times.  If you're driving an enormous articulated lorry then you probably have no choice but to go through a border station like the one in the picture above. There might be forms to fill out and documents to check. Sometimes customs guards get on the train in Germany and walk up and down before the first Swiss stop, looking for large packages that might require import taxes.  There are even rumours of patrols that wander through the fields and country paths that straddle the border, tracking down cigarette and alcohol smugglers who can't afford a car or motorbike.  In all of this, I have never once been stopped and I've been here almost 7 years.   Despite that, the border is very real.


Switzerland allows the import of up to 300 CHF per day per person without levying an import tax.   That's about 300 Euros.  Or about £10000000 if the collapse of Sterling continues at its current rate.  I can catch the train over the German border to take advantage of the strong Swiss Franc in the Euro-zone and spend up to 300 CHF without having to declare it at the border.  Actually, it's better than that because Germany has a VAT rate of 15%, while in Switzerland it is ony about 8%.  You guesed right, I can claim back the difference and make further savings.  To do that, though, I need to take a form to an office at the border. I did say the border was very real, didn't I?  If I try to bring back a job lot of PS4s across the border then I really should declare that and pay the import tax by filling out a form at, yup, the border.  You could, of course, risk it but maybe you're the cautious or nervous type so you think, "Hah, I'll get them to send them to me at my home address.  That'll fox the stupid border guards in their scratchy uniforms slaving away in the hot Koblenz sun".  Well, you're wrong.  You won't get the package until you pay the delivery courier the border tax and an additional administration fee.   That happened to me when I imported a German ukulele and a British bicycle.   The border even explains why a £2 ukulele part took 3.5 weeks to arrive from the UK: it probably just sat in the inspection pile until they worked out what it was, verified its value and sent it on with no charge.

The border leads to all sorts of strange activity because some goods simply can't be shipped to Switzerland from the EU.  Imagine you manufacture pencils and sold the EU distribution rights to one company and the Swiss distribution rights to another.  There would be no point in buying the Swiss distribution rights if identical pencils would flood across the border from the EU at lower prices.  If you had the Swiss distribution rights then you would need to tell that pencil manufacturer to contractually forbid the EU distributor from selling pencils in Switzerland.  This is exactly what happens:  quite often I try to buy an item online and find that it cannot be shipped from the EU. OK, look it up and see if there is a Swiss supplier.  Sometimes the price really puts you off, while sometimes it simply isn't for sale here because nobody has taken up the distribution rights. What to do if you really want that unique Wallonian pencil?  It is time to introduce the Lieferaddresse.   For a small fee of around 5 Euros you can have your item sent to an address on the German side.  Last time I was at the Jestetten border there was a Lieferaddresse right in front of the customs border.   Everyone is doing this because it can really save a lot of money.  All because of the customs border.  Which is very real.



Would we have a similar Scotland/England border?  I think we would, in time.  In fact, I think it is almost inevitable.  Imagine the EU abolished all alcohol tax, while England raised it.  That would be an invitation to smugglers to buy all known stocks of our delicious whisky and spirit it over the border.  Imagine the Scottish pound became suddenly valuable due to an uptick in oil prices?  That would be an invitation to start an illicit fish and chip supper smuggling ring based in Carlisle.  Any kind of divergence in taxation, currency or availability would lead to pressure in one direction or another.  I can't see either government accepting that. They will have to put checks on the border.  That doesn't mean a "hard" border; it doesn't mean horrible queues; it doesn't mean a huge, impenetrable fence Trump-style;  and it doesn't mean that you can't cycle down to Carlisle and back without your passport.  The border will certainly look nothing like Tove Stryke's bleak vision. Well, certainly not on the Scottish side, which will by then be a socialist utopia.   But there might be a border that looks kind of like the one at Koblenz only with less sunshine. It will become a simple fact of life as the economies of the nations diverge, which they surely will.

Over and out,

Terry

PS apologies for Mcglashan's old-fashioned language.   My take is that the joke is very much on him so just add homophobia to his rather unpleasant hatred of the English. 

 











Monday, 25 July 2016

It's going to happen


If you are a UK worker taking advantage of the many opportunities in the EU you are probably concerned about your future.  If you're like me then you are probably biased towards news items that point to a rosy future where Brexit simply doesn't happen.  You probably read all about this way back in the immediate aftermath of the referendum result.  For example, here, here and here.   Maybe you read about it here, here, or here.   Maybe you even thought Barack Obama said it won't happen.  The best that can be said about these articles is that they gave us all some hope.  Surely we all know Brexit is going to happen in some form or other?  Yes, I just linked to my own inexpert opinion on the topic.  Why not?  Having read all of the linked articles (and many, many others with an even slimmer grip on reality) I think I am at least as well informed as any "journalist".  Brexit is going to happen.  Remember only this:  if Brexit isn't going to happen then why were Boris JohnsonDavid Davis and Liam Fox promoted to the government?  These individuals are either divisive, unpopular or plagued by serious scandal that their advisors are working for a foreign power. Their only positive in the current climate is that they have the political motivation to make Brexit happen.



Fast forward a month in time and these articles are still appearing at a steady pace.   Here is one.  Here is another.  A not-clever twist on the theme is that the Brexit process will start but that it will be completely reversed before being fully implemented.   Maybe you read stories claiming Nicola Sturgeon thinks she has a veto on Brexit.  There are even stories doing the rounds presenting a world where Brexit does happen but that there will be no material change whatsoever.  Who is writing these articles? Friends often claim that I live in a bubble world constructed entirely of reality repellant but it turns out that "journalists" have constructed bigger and better bubbles than I ever managed, despite all of my best efforts.  Anyone know their secret?  Is it something you learn at "journalism" college?
 
Over and out,

Terry







Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Misty Blue Pt 2

Yesterday I wrote about the EU Blue Card. It was a bit of an experiment in that I simultaneously read about it and wrote about it. I wanted to post my immediate reactions to it because it is rather a dull topic and, bloody heck, this blog needs a bit of life. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed participating in my literary laboratory. Published and be damned does have its disadvantages, though. In this case, I don't think my negativity towards the scheme was strong enough. I've read more about it over the last 24 hours and I am more concerned than ever about life for UK citizens attempting to work in the EU.

What exactly is wrong with the EU Blue Card? I already pointed out yesterday that it doesn't really put card-holders and EU citizens on a level playing field. Today, I shall explore further reasons for Brexit-related despair. This time I come prepared so you can read on safe in the knowledge that I'm not just winging it. How would you tell the difference?

The first real issue with the EU Blue Card is that very few are actually issued. I'm not exactly sure if  the suitability of the applicants, or a general lack of enthusiasm for EU nations to issue the cards. Anyway, there are 25 participating nations and around 5000 issued per year so that works out at an average of 200 per country. Ouch. Let's imagine that Germany issues quite a few of these because it has a large population and a buoyant economy. It is hard to imagine that the number of cards issued for the whole of Deutschland even reaches the thousands. There is certainly no guarantee that an applicant will be guaranteed a card, even one who ticks all the boxes as a highly qualified worker. Ooyah.

What else makes me sad and depressed? I mean specifically about the EU Blue Card, not just war and hunger and global warming. Well, one of the reasons that the number of issued cards is so low is that some countries have an annnual quota.


That's right, you are no longer a citizen of the EU so why would you have the right to live and work there. Quotas never sound good because they mean you either have to plan your applications to the quota calendar or sit in a waiting list, if such a system even exists. To secure working and residence rights in a single EU nation you need to simultaneously get a job and get the card. This reduces your chances of success somewhat.   

I have one final shock. To get your card issued you have to secure a job that could not be adequately be performed by a citizen of the EU


This means that a similarly qualified candidate from the EU can snaffle your dream job, even if you are a better fit. You will only get the job if the employer can argue that they couldn't find an EU citizen to fill the role. Those feelings of despair I had on 24th June seem perfectly rational now.

My impression is that the EU Blue Card is no more than an attempt at setting a standard for the way that EU nations fill vacant STEM positions with staff from outside the EU. If you have some really special skills with a strong market demand you would easily be able to secure a job in the EU with or without the implementation of the Blue Card scheme. The Blue Card bestows very few rights upon the holder. It is only valid for one EU nation at a time. It is time-limited. Each nation makes its own decision about granting or rejecting applications. If I had no other option would I take one? Well, yes, I probably would. If being an EU citizen has an EU-citizenness rating of 1.0 then obtaining an EU Blue Card probably scores about 0.35. That is a lot better than 0.0.

Over and out,

Terry




Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Misty Blue

I've not written much in the last few days because I am a right lazy sod have been researching the difficulties of securing EU working rights for UK nationals in a post-Brexit world. I also had some household chores to deal with and I drank one whisky too many on Saturday night.

In my last post I said that it is time to stop all the wailing and gnashing of teeth and to start preparations for a world in which I am no longer a citizen of the EU. Now, I am occasionally true to my word so today I'm going to write about the EU Blue Card. You've probably heard of the US Green Card and have likely even seen the terrible "comedy" film Green Card starring Gerard Depardieu, the thinking woman's overweight abusive alcoholic. Well, the EU Blue Card is a little like the US Green Card but let's remember this is the EU that we are dealing with so it is a little more complicated than you might imagine. By the end of the post we will learn that the EU Blue Card isn't quite the parallel of the US Green Card that we might desire.  We'll also learn if a loser like me is likely to get one or not (save yourself a tedious read - I probably would qualify). We'll also learn how to get one and what rights it grants.  I am learning all this too as I write this post so we're all in it together.



Let's start by stating that there is no guarantee that UK citizens will need to apply for the EU Blue Card.  
Perhaps that treasured EU freedom of movement of labour will persist for UK citizens in the bleak post-Brexit landscape. Personally, I don't think that will happen but my inexpert views are not all that pertinent here.  Let's also state there is no guarantee that UK citizens will be eligible for the EU Blue Card. As it stands, for example, the UK does not participate in the scheme. In this respect, it is in a club of just 3 countries: UK, Ireland and Denmark. For UK citizens this only removes Denmark from the equation because the Common Travel Area agreement already covers reciprocity between UK and Ireland.  If you are in a UK prison and not currently eligible to work in the UK then I'm afraid you came to the wrong blog for advice. My only advice would be to keep your nose clean, stay out of prison, and be a good example for the next generation.

Imagine you had an EU Blue Card in your sweaty mitts right now. What would yoube able to with it? Well, you would be able to live and work in the EU but not nearly as freely as if you were a citizen of the EU.  The first thing to note is that the card can only be issued if you have a job offer in a participating nation.  That's right, you are no longer a citizen of the EU so why would you have the automatic right to work and live there?  Blame whoever you want for this ignominy.  I'll look at the conditions that will lead to a successful application later in this post but for now let's look at the opportunities and limits presented by the card.  The first big shock is that  for the first two years after the card is issued you need to stay in the same job because the card is initally tied to a specific employment. Likewise, for the first 18 months you are not allowed to work in another EU nation.  This second limit is probably rather theoretical for most people because moving country is typically coincident with changing job.  There are freedoms to temporarily live and work in other EU nations so it would be possible for your employer to send you elsewhere on secondment, even within the first two years.  Changing jobs, however, is not possible unless you appeal to your host country for special dispensation.  I can imagine conditions where that might prevail but let's put them from our minds unless you are a reputational genius in your professional field.

Fred Dinenage acquired reputational genius status in his field

There are more shocks to come.  Prepare yourself, sit down, take a deep breath, drink some whisky or whatever calms you down.  Ready?  The card is time-limited to a maximum of 4 years.  That's right, you need to reapply when it expires.  I'd expect that if you are working this won't be a problem, especially if you haven't radically changed profession and are able to reapply on broadly the same terms.  If you don't have a job or have decided to retrain as a poorly paid pet hypnotist then don't be surprised if the authorities make your life a bit harder than you'd like.  Anybody with heart conditions please look away now because another shock is coming right up:  if you want to move country within the EU you need to have the card reissued by the authorities of that country. That's right, the Blue Card is issued by each country and is only valid in that country.  Moreover, the conditions that might lead to acceptance of your application are different in each country, too.  Some countries might need laboratory technicians but have no need for Java application developers.  Some countries might have a chronic shortage of dog hypnotists, while others take a more holistic approach to pet mental health.  There are no certainties with the Blue Card.

Did you hypnotise this dog? If so, please leave the EU.
The last big shock is that unemployment can lead to withdrawal of the EU Blue Card.  You will be given 3 months to find a new job and if you don't manage that then you are in no man's land.  If you are particularly resourceful I would imagine there are all sorts of ways that you could stay in your host country on different schemes particular to that nation.  The Blue Card, however, probably isn't one of them.  One thing that isn't clear in all of this is what exactly is meant by unemployed.  For example, I could quit my job tomorrow but not bother registering as unemployed.  In fact, I have done that in the past in the UK.  I had some money saved up, had just paid off the mortgage, fancied an extended break from the world of work,  and just couldn't be bothered dealing with the cruel bureaucracy of the UK umemployment service for the measly benefit they dole out.  Happy days but was that unemployed?  I have no idea.  I saw myself as a man of leisure.  My Mum said I was a work-shy dosser.

I've focused so far on the downsides.  I'm going to carry on in that direction for a while because the full horror isn't revealed.  The key point here is that the Blue Card, the single document that approves residence and working rights, is tied to your employment.  That makes me a little nervous. Let me explain. Some years ago I had a job offer in Canada but for all sorts of reasons I turned it down.  Some of the reasons I turned it down were the same reasons that stopped me even once considering a job in the US.  There was a time in my career when I worked on a really, really successful project.  I had a small role on the project but it was enough for US employers to track down my home phone number and badger me to apply for a job at their company.  Well, under absolutely no circumstances.  Not after the Canada experience.  What happened there?  Well, my right to work was tied to my employer.  As a consequence, moving jobs was non-trivial, thereby giving the employer the upper hand in any salary negotiations down the line.  It could be even worse.  Imagine an employer that forced their employees to work horrible hours, perhaps an employer in, say, the games industry. What would it be like if such an employer took a dim view of staff that worked less than 14-hour days and wanted to sleep on Saturdays? Well, it would be shit because the power is not in the hands of the employee.  Normally, you would just walk away and get another job.  Just for clarity, that is not so easy if your rights to live and work are tied to your current employer.  Now, I'm not saying that employers typically treat foreign staff more cruelly.  I am saying, however, that employers that do treat their staff poorly are more likely to retain those who don't have automatic rights to walk away and get another job.  That Canadian employer was rumoured to, erm, expect a lot from their staff.  Who knows if the rumours were true (there are rumours flying around everywhere in the tech industry) but the visa conditions made it an offer that was easy to reject.

If I've not put you off then you might still want to apply for one of these EU Blue Cards.  The EU is actually a pretty good place to work because, unlike North America, it takes workers' rights quite seriously.  Let's not be too hasty in rejecting the old Blue Card because Bernd in Bochum (great guy, look him up next time you're in Bochum) says life is great up there.  Well, the only real hurdle is to get a job in the the EU.  Simply apply for a job and make it clear to your potential employer that you believe you are eligible for the EU Blue Card. If you are the right candidate for the job then your employer will need to do some form-filling. You will also do some form-filling. The caveat here is that the job offer must have a salary in excess of the national average by at least a factor of 1.2 for sought-after professionals or 1.5 for everyone else. Who are these sought-after professionals? Well, if you are a STEM graduate then you are very much in luck because the EU really, really want people exactly like you. I am a STEM graduate so I was heartened when I learned this. If you're not a STEM graduate then please be aware how difficult it is to get a girlfriend/boyfriend if you are carrying the unattractive burden of a STEM mindset. Life is certainly full of swings and roundabouts.

So far, we've learned that you need be able to secure a job with a salary of either 1.2 (STEM graduates) or 1.5 (everyone else) times national average. I'm no expert in graduate salaries these days but I would expect that a junior dot.net developer, for example, would earn at least 1.2 times national average in any European country. That is roughly 37000 Euros in Germany.  Please correct me if I am wrong here. As I understand it, everything after that is basically just form-filling and a small administation fee of 100 Euros or so. It might, of course, be more complicated than that because there is no guarantee that a Blue Card will be issued. Remember that it is down to each individual country to issue the card.  The Blue Card website is very clear that applications from STEM professions are treated favourably but that is not a guarantee of success.  Moreover, it says nothing at all about how applications from non-STEM professions will be treated. Let's say that you are a hot-shot furniture restorer who can command a huge salary due to your experience with 19th century Prussian chairs. I'm not convinced that you are the kind of employee the EU has in mind. Don't despair, though, because in addition to your sexual desirability you might still be eligible if you apply as an entrepeneur with a plan to start a business. I know nothing about starting a business so I'll leave that hanging there.

What have we learned?
  1. The EU Blue Card scheme is not as good as being a citizen of the EU.  
  2. You are quids in if you are a STEM graduate and can command a salary slightly above average salary.
  3. You have a lot of convincing to do if you can command a salary well-above average but are not a STEM graduate and not working in a STEM profession.
  4. The Blue Card is time-limited to a maximum of 4 years.
  5. Changing career or country might endanger your Blue Card.
  6. I would probably get one (degree, PhD, 15 yrs in the tech sector)
  7. STEM graduates can't get girlfriends/boyfriends due to their unattractive STEM mindset.
  8. Nothing will ever be as ace as being a citizen of the EU. 

I think that is more than enough for now.

Over and out,

Terry


PS There is a lot more to explore with the EU Blue Card.  I'll come back to this later.  My next post might be about getting hold of EU citizenship.  Then again, it might not.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Write to the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen Pt 2

If you've been following this blog you will know that I wrote to my MP with concerns about the rights of UK citizens living in Switzerland.    Well, he failed to respond.  Of course, he failed to respond.  Why would he care about this?  I doubt if a single MP has the rights of UK workers in the EU on their radar. 

The good thing about being Scottish is that you have access to more democracy than if you are English: we have the Scottish Parliament as well.  I have now written to my MSP outlining the same concerns.  I also listed this blog on the letter.  Come on Stewart McDonald MP and  James Dornan MSP, get thinking and come up with an answer.  Answer in the comments if you so desire.  To paraphrase Partridge, do write in, please do write in. 

Over and out,

Terry

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Do or Die

If you've been reading this blog you might have noticed a lot of negativity along with general wailing and gnashing of teeth. Blah, blah, blah, this sucks, blah, blah, this is so unfair, boo hoo, I am a good person that pays my taxes and am kind to animals, oh why oh why oh why must this happen to me. This has been punctuated with not-hilarious anecdotes and links to pop videos with semi-apt song titles. Well, that ends today. This post, and the next few, will be about how to prepare for the future if are a UK national and would like to work in the EU. The time for consolation and despair has come to an end. Don't worry, there will still be not-hilarious anecdotes and links to pop videos with semi-apt song titles.


In a post-Brexit world what are the likely kinds of mechanisms that will let us all carry on living and working in the cozy confines of mainland Europe. If you are someone of enormous wealth and/or dubious morality there are all sorts of potential strategies. For example, you can probably pay someone to marry you just like Gerard Depardieu did in the truly awful "comedy" Green Card. Failing that, maybe you could bribe a public official. Some EU countries even have nefarious mechanisms to buy a passport. Perhaps you are brilliant at an olympic sport and have the phone number of Zola Budd's lawyer.  Look how that ended, though.



Let's say you are a normal, like me. What avenues might present themselves? Well, there are quite a few ways in which you might secure residency and employment rights in member nation of the EU. Off the top of my head, these might include a) gaining citizenship of an EU nation b) securing a work permit in a country of your choice c) convincing an employer to apply for a work visa tied to that specific employment d) hoping that your pre-Brexit host nation has an amnesty for UK nationals already living there. Now, none of these are as ace as being a citizen of the EU. I know that and you know that but, as I said earlier, let's have no more bawling or gnashing of my teeth. I already get told off by my dentist for brushing too hard so I have no desire to add bruxism to my list of shame.

In the next few posts I'm going to look at many of the options listed above.  If you've ever wondered how to apply for a German work visa then you might just find out the answer. If you want to know what skills you'll need or if you need to lie about your age, then hopefully all will be become 0.0001% clearer. We are going to learn that the 27 remaining EU nations all operate their own system; that there are foibles and idiosyncracies everywhere. Wouldn't it be great if there was some kind of centralised administration that unified all of this? Oh. Young people of 2049, that was a reference to the European Union. It was a marvellous age,  right before the years of plague and pestilence.

Please note that I filled the paragraph above with all sorts of caveats.  None of that might happen. Who knows, I might take this blog in a completely different direction.  Remember how many times I promised to write about the Swiss situation?  Well, I got there in the end but what a palaver that turned out to be.

Stay tuned. Exciting Moderately interesting times lie ahead.

Over and out,

Terry

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Stuck on repeat

If you are a UK national living in the EU or a EU national living in the UK you are probably worried about how the Brexit negotiations might impact on your daily life.  You are probably worried about your right to buy and sell property, your right to work, your right to education or perhaps your right to healthcare.  If you are thinking of making a move you have probably either shelved or accelerated your plans.  Concrete change, however, could be years ahead.  Until then we are all in a state of limbo.  Are there any signs in the meantime that might give hints to our border-hopping future?  Well, feast your eyes on Switzerland: not only a land of erotic adventure but also at the forefront of negotiations to limit inward EU migration.

This is quite a long-winded and dull post so here's some music with a semi-appropriate song title to be getting on with while you're reading.  Take it away Ms Boots.



Switzerland has a system of direct democracy.  This means that key decisions are made by referendum.  The outcome of each referendum is legally binding and must be implemented within three years.  One such referendum back in February, 2014 was the "Masseinwanderungsinitiative".  This referendum was called to decide whether to place limits on inward migration from the EU.  Now, Switzerland has something like 120 treaty agreements with the EU.  Despite not being in the EU, the influence of the EU can be felt absolutely everywhere, from food hygiene to flight noise regulations.  I am living in the leafy city of Zurich because Swizerland was/is a signatory to the EU freedom of movement of labour.  Without that one particular treaty agreement it would have been a much harder decision to make the move.  On a roughly 50% turnout, 50.3% of votes cast decided to put a cap on inward EU migration.  I'm glad I came earlier rather than later.

If you are good at arithmetic you will have worked out that the Swiss government has just 7 months remaining to complete its negotiations.  If arithmetic isn't your strong point then the outcome is exactly the same:  7 months to complete all negotiations.  Why would you think your arithmetic skills would change the negotiation timeframe?  Pay attention.  Anyway, it would be fair to say that the negotiations are not going well.  Really, not well at all.  Did I mention they weren't going very well?

It seems that both sides have reached an impasse.  The EU is simply unwilling to give up its founding principles.  The Swiss side, on the other hand, has to find a path that doesn't endanger the prosperity brought by the remaining 119 treaties (some would argue they all brought prosperity by luring tech hotshots like, erm, me).  Neither side can reach an agreement.



What are the possible outcomes?  If you are an alert reader and you read the links above then everything from now on in this post is just repeats.  There might be some not-hilarious anecdotes near the end and maybe a pop video with an apt song title but, honestly, you might as well bugger off now.  I suspect that any readers of this blog are right lazy sods so I'll give a quick summary.  The first option is to re-run the referendum, perhaps adding some more detail to the question.  I imagine something like "Do you wish to a) push the nuclear button and trigger an unending misery of famine and pestilence or  b) go back to the way it was when you were young and free and happy and beautiful and in love."  There are plenty of examples around Europe of referendum re-runs until the public give the "correct" answer.  After all, voting twice is surely twice as democratic as just voting once.  This might happen but it will take time because Switzerland is an organised society and not prone to outbreaks of spontaneity.  Meanwhile, the clock ticks towards the deadline.  The only certainty is that the deadline will happen years before a second referendum can be organised.

The next option, and one that might follow the first, is that Swizerland just imposes the cap without any formal agreement and awaits response from the EU.  Remember that the government are obliged to do something in response to the referendum result.  That sounds fairly terrifying, to be honest.  Switzerland is a small country of just 8 million people.  Its immediate EU neighbours are similarly wealthy countries and number something like 200 million.  I fear that option is not going to end well for Switzerland.

Let's move on to the last option.  This pretty much kicks the can down the road and leaves everything kind of in place as it is now.  Basically, Switzerland and the EU agree some conditions under which specific caps could be triggered per region or per profession based on relative rates of unemployment.  A Swiss/EU committee would then oversee the decisions.  I'd imagine that the cap would never be triggered.  Just like Brexit, nobody really wants to press the button. Having said that, there would be an immediate change that should be of concern to every EU national living in Switzerland. As it stands, my rights to work and reside here are granted for the whole of Switzerland.  Those rights are issued by the migration office of Canton Zurich because residency is actually a matter for cantons rather than the government in Bern.  Thanks to the EU, however, the migration office of every canton grants nationwide rights to all EU nationals because, well, they have to.  If this final option is implemented I would expect my next "Aufenthaltsbewilligung" to be granted only for Canton Zurich.  That makes me a little nervous.  What happens if I want to work in Zurich but live in Canton Zug or vice versa?  That is exactly the kind of thing that many people do: Zug is only 25 minutes away by very comfortable train.  How exactly will that work out?  Well, history provides some clues.  In the old days, foreign nationals had to work and live in the same Canton.  Bloody heck, that sounds a bit shit.  Good news for removal firms, though.

You might be thinking that the pragmatic per-region cap sounds quite attractive because at the very least it avoids the nuclear option.  Could this work in the UK?  Well, no and no and no again.  The UK simply doesn't work like that.  Rights to residence and work are granted by the UK government and cover the entire UK.  The regions simply have no power to grant settlement rights to foreign nationals.  That is even true of Scotland, which has the most powerful devolved parliament in the UK.  Yup, even Scotland, as long as it remains part of the UK, has no rights over immigration.  All of those powers lie in Westminster and are executed UK-wide.  If you have the right to work in London, then you also have the right to a holiday home in Hastings;  a boat in Bournemouth;  a castle in Caithness; and a petting zoo in Perth. Changing any of that would require a huge constitutional change.  This is not going to happen.

Where does that leave us?  Well, you've wasted your time reading this if you expected firm conclusions.  We have learned that the EU takes the freedom of movement of labour very seriously, indeed.  One other thing is that a new UK Prime Minister will be appointed today.  I'm just in from work so this might have already happened.  Everyone, meet Theresa May.  Her husband is a banker.  That wasn't an insult - he really is a banker. It should be of no surprise to anyone that leading figures in the Conservative Party have close links to bankers.  Now, what do banks want? They want post-Brexit access to European financial markets.  Meanwhile, I'd imagine that Frankfurt and Paris and Dublin have their eyes on all that lucrative Canary Wharf skrilla.  The EU will not want to cede this without the UK adopting the founding principles of the EU.  Theresa May has already said she expects the freedom of movement of labour to end in the UK.  In fact, she's been saying this since last year.  Expect another impasse, just like the Swiss/EU one.  Yes, there it is, a rock solid conclusion at last.  No, not a mountain pass.  AN IMPASSE.  AN IMPASSE.  I give up.

Over and out,

Terry

PS you might be wondering where a middle-aged loser like me learnt the word "skrilla".  Well, step forward Wiley and take a bow for expanding my vocabulary.  I don't go around using it, though.  It would feel a bit stupid:  I'm a middle-aged man living in leafy Zurich.  I'm not even sure that I won't come back later and edit that sentence.  Before I engage in historical revision it's over to you Wiley.



Monday, 11 July 2016

British people in hot weather

 A colleague at work remarked a few weeks ago that he only just learned that Scotland is a separate country.  This is something I've encountered quite a few times.  It really is no big deal.  I should mention that I had never heard of his home town:  as individuals we can't maintain all knowledge all the time in our human brains.  Some people I've met think Scotland is a region of England, some people think it is as far north as Norway, some might even think it is a fictional place where Shrek was born.  Scotland is a small country and I don't really expect the rest of the world to obsess over it.  I certainly don't expect anyone from outside the UK to be conversant in the complex differences between Great Britain, the British Isles, British Protectorates, British Overseas Territories or be able to quote legal text verbatim from the 1707 Acts of Union.  I do, however, expect English people to be able to differentiate between Scotland, England, and the UK.  After all, they had much the same educational opportunities that I had and I manage it.  I expect people who identify as patriotic to be particularly good at this:  if you describe yourself as an English or British patriot it would be best if you understand the political boundaries of your allegiances.

Meet Vince from Hull.  He voted to leave the EU.  He thinks Scotland is part of England.

https://twitter.com/SkyNews/status/749852756630908928

Obviously, Vince is a first class clown.  I'll give him this, though: it is true that Scotland doesn't want to be part of England.  He's right on the button there.  Can't argue with that.  It is clear from the video that Vince particularly wanted to talk about Scotland.  Vince thinks he is knowledgeable about this and is confident in his opinion.  He has clearly asked the reporter for a chance to talk especially about his view on people living at a more northerly latitude.  Once again, Vince thinks Scotland is part of England.  Vince wants to build a wall to keep the Scots and the English separate.  By his own logic, he wants to build a wall to separate one part of England from another.  He seems to be in favour of internal borders redolent of Stalinist Russia.  I certainly know where I'd like to build an enormous, insurmountable wall.

Meet a representative of "Diamond Ring Specialist".  I'm afraid I don't know her name but she is a living, breathing human being that had the same educational opportunities that I had.  She thinks Britain is the same as England and uses these terms inter-changeably.  I doubt she has ever heard of the 1707 Acts of Union.


Now meet a man who doesn't understand the difference between Europe and the rest of the world.  I actually wonder if he even knows what country he currently lives in because he keeps referring to it merely as, "this country".  Perhaps anger has clouded his sense of geography.  This man voted us out of the EU because he doesn't want "muslims from Syria". Despite being broadly sympathetic to the founding principles of the EU he voted out anyway because he is raging mad at Africans.



If you want to blame someone for the current mess should we blame Vince?  Should we blame that representative from "Diamond Ring Specialists" or that angry man on the street who has mistaken the continent of Africa for the EU?  I don't know if we should, to be honest, but I feel like doing it anyway.  I want to match their anger at "foreigners" and "muslims" with my anger at them.  A key decision that will affect the rest of my life was swung by people like Vince from Hull; people who think Scotland is part of England; people who think England and Britain are the same; people who think the EU referendum was about immigrants from Africa; people who think the only freedom they can ever aspire to is the freedom to live without "foreigners" upsetting their delicate routine.

I am stupendously furious but I think I need to direct my anger elsewhere.  I don't think Vince actually had that much education.  Pointing out his ignorance doesn't really help anyone, unless Vince takes it upon himself to devote the remainder of his life to the pursuit of knowledge and universal truth.  I doubt if that angry man had much education either and the representative of "Diamond Ring Specialists" probably wouldn't work there if she had a PhD in genetics. Besides, the producers of these Vox Pops knew exactly how the respondents would come across.  It would be fair to say they were produced rather cynically - yeah, let's all laugh at the village idiots.  That doesn't help me finding someone to blame.  Right now, I really, really need someone to blame.  Well, who exactly has been in charge of education in England for the last 30 or so years?  Blame them. What have they been up to to produce such a lamentable shower of incurious individuals?  How can a country with some of the most prestigious universities in the world fail so dismally fail to educate its own people in the most basic aspects of civic life?  An alternative explanation is that the summer heat has melted their brains. 


Over and out,

Terry

PS That article on the Swiss situation really is brewing.  Patience is a virtue.  I know, I know, no one is reading this waffle. 

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Borderline sad, borderline sad

"Gents of the empire strangle my desire".  How very f**king apt.


I'm a middle-aged man now but some time ago I was actually a young man still to develop the grumpy and negative outlook on the world that I cling to today.  When I was young borders were coming down all over Europe.   When I was young the world was opening up; hardly a year went by without new freedoms and opportunities presenting themselves to young people in the EU.  When I was young we were still to hear "One Dance" by Drake for the first time.  Whit  a buzz!  (btw that is not a spelling mistake, it is just how we say "what" in Scotland when we feel a bit mischievous).

If you are 22 years old living in the UK in 2016 are you likely to experience that sense of opportunity and freedom that people of my generation had?  It saddens me to say this, but I very much doubt it.  Thanks to the Brexit vote, borders are likely to be reinstated.  Thanks to the Brexit vote, their right to work in any EU nation will be curtailed.  I'm going to rephrase this slightly to emphasis the regressive nature of Brexit:  EU nations must act in a manner that does not discriminate against citizens of other EU nations.  As it stands, that includes UK nationals.  After Brexit is complete,  EU nations will be forced to treat UK citizens in a discriminatory manner.  For example, if Bernd in Bochum has the choice of hiring a French or a Welsh candidate then the company will be forced to take the French candidate. There will need to be an extremely good reason to choose a non-EU candidate over one from the EU.  I don't know about anyone else but I had no particular skills when I was 22.  To be perfectly honest, I don't have any particular skills now.  Bernd in Bochum probably won't even bother interviewing the Welsh candidate because it will just be a waste of time.  I've been unlucky enough to witness first-hand just how hard it is to make the case for work visas for non-EU nationals, even in an industry that suffers from a global skills shortage. In about 2.25 years I will find myself in exactly the same boat.  That fictitious 22 year old I mentioned earlier will be able to gaze across the English Channel and watch their contemporaries in France and Germany and Sweden carrying on exercising those very freedoms that UK citizens are about to lose.

Why am I saying all this?  Well, because of this.  If you are a UK national living and working in the EU this probably makes you a little nervous:  the likely Prime Minister seems hell-bent on giving up the freedom of movement of labour.  Moreover, the likely Prime Minister has already stated she is prepared to use EU nationals living in the UK as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations.  The other candidate in the contest to become next Conservative leader and Prime Minister campaigned to leave the EU so I would imagine we can think of Theresa May as the least-worst scenario.  A reduction of rights and freedoms now seems a sure-fire certainty.   

If you are 22, living in the UK, and thinking about taking advantages of EU freedoms and rights I would recommend taking action right now.  If you get  yourself settled before the completion of Brexit you might just be able to stay wherever you end up.  You have about 2.25 years so get cracking.  If you're 16 and reading this then not only are you wasting your time on the rantings of a middle-aged idiot but you're also basically stuffed.  Right now, I don't envisage a mechanism by which you could apply for a job in Paris in 2022 and not be at the back of the queue due to your EU status.  Even Bernd in Bochum (great guy, look him up next time you're in Bochum) won't consider your CV.  Bloody heck, this is a depressing mess.   In my first ever post I did say this might be an emotional journey as much as a logistical and political one.

Over and out,

Terry

PS That post about the Swiss situation is still brewing.  I'm a bit slow reading articles in German and it is sunny outside. 




Saturday, 9 July 2016

Shame, shame, shame

A few days ago I explored my deepening sense of shame about being British. The Brexit referendum has brought this back to the surface. It turns out I am not alone in all of this. Matthew Parris, the political commentator and former Conservative MP, has written that he now feels ashamed to be British. Matthew, you're welcome to the club but bloody heck you are about 13 years too late. (Young people of 2049 who are reading this, that was a reference to the Iraq War.)


Over and out,

Terry

PS I promise my next post will be about the Swiss situation.   Come back, come, back, this is not as boring as you might think.  The ongoing EU-Swiss negotiations might provide an advance flavour of the upcoming EU-UK negotiations.  Expect wild speculation and inexpert opinion.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Jacques Delors and the (sex) Machine

The Chilcot report came out today. I don't have anything to add, really, so I'm not going to comment on it.  Besides, it is a topic beyond the ken of this blog and there is plenty of excellent coverage out there.  Instead, this post is going to be about Scottish independence. I'm going to find a parallel between the pro-EU instincts of my generation and the pro-Union feelings of the majority of my parents' peers.  This might not be good news for my hopes of maintaining an EU passport via the mechanism of a successful Scottish independence referendum, followed by automatic membership of the EU as a continuing member state.

Yesterday, I mentioned that I had warm, fuzzy feelings about the EU because the EU had been good to me.  Don't worry, these aren't erotic feelings or anything weird involving a life-size papier mache model of Jacques Delors.   It is a simple fact that the EU has given me freedoms and opportunities unimaginable by my parents' generation and I've been lucky enough to be able to take advantage of them.  I'm  taking advantage of them now.  Yup, still doing it.  In the lull there in-between sentences I was still taking advantage of them.  I'm not going to stop any time soon.  Well, actually, I will stop taking advantage of them exactly two years to the day after the next Conservative Party leader triggers Article 50.

The timeline of the EU means that anyone younger than about 35 in the UK has probably never known anything other than a life with the EU.  They probably never knew a time when market stalls only sold potatoes in imperial measures;  they probably considered working or studying abroad at some point in their lives;  they probably returned from a trip to Poland and immediately went to their local Sklep to buy some of that tasty Pierogi;  they probably have friends that speak English in sexy European accents; they probably think Drake being at Nr 1 in the hit parade with "One Dance" is the result of an ancient EU decree.   The younger you are, the more the EU has been a constant, unquestioned feature in your life, something as old and familiar as the weird combination of bath and adjacent toilet.   The older you are, the more likely it is that the EU has been a disruption to your life, nothing more than an imposition that forced you to buy potatoes in a dazzling choice of imperial and metric units.  What has this got to do with Scottish independence?  Am I not just banging on and on and on and on about the freedom of movement of labour in the EU all over again?  Well, I'm getting there.  This is the foreplay before I sex you up with that lifesize model of Jacques Delors.   Just imagine it.  Oooh, ja, das ist enorm.  Hang on a minute, he wasn't German.  Ooh la la, il est jeegantiq.


Just as the EU referendum showed a huge difference between young and old, so too did the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.  If you are young and Scottish you are likely to be  a pro-EU independence supporter.   If you are a pensioner and Scottish you are something like 75% likely to be against independence.  What is going on there?  Is it just that pensioners don't like change? After all, I'm getting on a bit and I've made it perfectly clear that I don't like change.  Well, that might be part of it but I think there is a lot more going on.  I think there are a lot of residual warm, fuzzy feelings about the Union in the older generation.  In fact, their relationship to the Union probably mirrors mine with the EU.  Let's imagine you came of age just after the war.  Leaving aside the war for a second, just think about the social change that happened back then: free dentistry, free NHS, a commitment to social housing, state industries providing jobs for life, a consumer and technology boom bringing TVs and pop music to your home.  Good times, indeed, but still nothing as good as "One Dance" by Drake.  If you grew up with all of that you probably have warm, fuzzy feelings about the Union.  Perhaps Glasgow pensioners keep life-size erotic models of Selwyn Lloyd.  That's why you never see any for sale - they're all sold out.


I'm mentioning all of this because the older generation voted with such unity that they swung both the EU and the first Scotttish independence referendum.  The EU status of Scotland rather depends now on a vote for Scottish independence followed by automatic entry to the EU as a continuing member.  So, take note if you're Scottish and also wish for independence:  if you know an older person please take the time to understand their warm, fuzzy feelings for the Union.  They are less likely to have warm, fuzzy feelings about the EU than you so they are probably not even conflicted between membership of the EU and membership of the UK.  Recent events are statistically unlikely to have changed their mind on self-determination.   If you want to help swing it for independence then you will need to appeal to older people in your lives, to tell them that this is important to you, to point out that the generation they begat and the one that followed are statistically likely to see the EU as a place of life opportunities and erotic wonder.  Actually, perhaps don't mention the erotic wonder part.  I'll leave to that your discretion but for god's sake let's keep those life-size models of historic political figures to ourselves.

Over and out,

Terry

PS A few days ago I said I would blog about the Swiss situation and never did.  Maybe tomorrow.  Or maybe there will be a mystery topic.  Nobody is reading this, anyway, so I might as well get back to my collection of life-size erotic models of historic political figures.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Two pumps and a squirt ...

...and the land that we stand on is ours.
 
When I was around 15 years old I used to like The Smiths.  Even in the heady days of 2016 I occasionally bung on a Smiths song on Spotify.  I'm particularly partial to "Sweet and Tender Hooligan".  A few years ago my then-girlfriend told me that she had been to see The Smiths.  I thought that was extremely cool; I wished I'd been to see The Smiths because it must have been incredible.  Today, in the here and now, I sit and wonder (at unwarranted length) if The Smiths contributed to a reactionary force that ultimately led to Brexit;  abetted a movement that will try to make me live in a land with an inferior network of cycle paths.  In my feverish mind, the way that The Smiths conjured up a vision of pre-immigration Britain now seems less of a quaint Ealing-style affectation and more of a pre-UKIP political manifesto.  "A rush and a push and the land that we stand on is ours" could have easily been uttered by Paul Nuttall at the 2015 UKIP conference.  "England is mind and it owes me a living" sounds horribly like something you might hear at a BNP rally.  Maybe it's irrational but I've started to think like this in these uncertain times.  I'm seeing signs of Brexit and English nationalism in all sorts of unusual places.  This blog post will be about being Scottish and European and definitely not feeling British.

When I was about 15 years old my parents and I travelled down to London by train to visit my sister, who at that time was a student thereI remember seeing all the landmarks and thinking how cool everything in London seemed, especially compared with gloomy Glasgow. I remember on that trip, and on subsequent visits, seeing Westminster and thinking, wow, that is where important decisions are taken that affect all our lives.  I remember feeling connected to it because I was British and it represented the centre of British politics.  A couple of years ago I walked along the Thames and looked over at Westminster. And I felt absolutely nothing, certainly nothing more than I felt when I walked past the Lithuanian Parliament or the Bulgarian National Assembly. It's just an old building that needs urgent repair.  It means nothing to me at all. 

What happened in those intervening years?  The first thing that happened is that the EU happened.  When I was at secondary school in the mid-80s my German teacher excitedly told us all about all the coming changes in Europe.  She impressed upon us that learning Deutsch would present amazing work and life opportunities.  In the late 90s, when I was a stuggling but hopeful academic, I took advantage of those very rights.  I blagged a job at a German science research institute when I would otherwise have been unemployed.  Later on in life, when I'd had more than enough as an overworked UK games developer, I secured another job in the leafy city of Zurich.  I exercised my rights again to work in any country that was a signatory to the EU free movement of labour.  The EU has been good to me at times when I considered UK employment conditions, laws and practices to be a lot less shiny.  In short, I feel European and have warm, fuzzy feelings about the EU.

What else happened?  Well, in truth, I started to feel ashamed to be British.  First we had Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Libya, then Syria. I think we are involved in something underhand in Yemen too but I'm not really on the ball with geo-politics and my sense of shame can't take any more.  If you factor in Suez, Aden, and the Falklands then barely a year has gone by since the end of WW2 in which Britain hasn't been at war somewhere.  These are supposed to be the peaceful years.  I've left out the Icelandic Cod War because it wasn't really a war, although someone did actually die so it was still a bit shit.  I haven't even mentioned the complete lack of commitment to human rights by successive British governments, who seem keener on warring than abolishing torture. Anyway, I have a creeping sense of shame that Britain is most definitely not a force for good in the world.  Is now the right time to mention the Chagos Islands? Please take the time to read Craig Murray's blog if you want to know more.  He is much better at this than I will ever be.

To add insult to injury, people are forever wafting the Union Jack around on TV.  David Bowie even put one on his frock coat. Perhaps in a misplaced stylistic nod to the Thin White Duke, Nigel Farage had it painted on his shoes. If you feel like tattoing your face why not give it a go?  Not your thing?  Then try out some Union Jack Doc Martens, perfect attire for far-right street marches and EDL meetings.  Give them the slightest opportunity and someone will get out their Union Jack wellies and their Union Jack festival poncho and prance about in the rain while banging on about their unique ability to laugh in the face of adversity.  I've been lucky enough to have travelled around quite a bit and I've seen people enjoying themselves in downpours in almost every country where precipitation is a commonplace meterological phenomenon.  You don't need to cover your body in political symbols historically revered by far-right street movements to have a laugh in inclement weather.  Right now, I have never felt less British.  I probably feel as British as Bernd from Bochum (look him up if you ever find yourself in Bochum, great guy). All of this means nothing to me.  I am no longer British.  Brexit finished off any remaining vestiges of British sentiment.

The problem I face is that I am definitely still a national of the UK.  I can moan all I want about the rising tide of nationalism but it won't give me back my EU passport.  I can unfavourite everything by The Smiths on Spotify; I can shout at the telly when some knob in his Union Jack pants prances about at Glastonbury Festival; I can bang on and on and on and on and on about it but the clock is still ticking on my right to work in any nation that is a signatory to the free movement of labour in the EU.  My UK passport is metaphorically pissing on my chips. Don't forget that I am Scottish and I bloody love chips.  This sucks.

I'm going to end with a true and not hilarious anecdote.  A few years ago I was in Germany and some young people who may have been junkies asked me for some money.  I'm from Glasgow so I know what a junkie looks like.  I didn't give them any because I didn't want to fund their habit am mean and heartless.  It is true what they about Scottish people.  Anyway, they voiced their displeasure by callling me, "you f**king British man".  That was probably the worst thing they could have said to me. 

Over and out,

Terry

PS I think I might blog about Scottish independence next. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope in all this gloom.






Monday, 4 July 2016

I'm a loser baby so why ...

... don't you vote the UK out of complex European trade deals and while you're at why not derail alll of my future plans?

I'm not in the mood for speculative politics today.  Meanwhile, very few concrete facts have come out since my last post.   I thought I'd focus on those feelings of fear and despair that I talked about in my first ever post.  If you find this sort of thing tedious, self-obsessive or whatever please look away.  There's no need to hide your distaste or disgust at all this introspection because this is the internet in 2016 so I can't see you.  Can I entice you back if I tell you there is some politics in all of this?  I'll get round to it in a few paragraphs.  It'll blow your mind be marginally interesting.

I've been thinking a lot about losing in the last few days.  I guess I really do feel like I'm on the losing side.  On an important political matter that really has a negative impact on people's lives this is probably the first time it has ever happened to me.  You know when you see people on TV crying and getting all distraught when their football team loses?   And sane, rational people sit at home on their sofa and wonder what that's all about?  How could you get so het up about something as meaningless and transitory as a football result?   Well,  my reaction to the Brexit referendum is nothing like that at all.  It is a terrible analogy.  Put it from your mind.

I've not even once voted for the winning party in a UK General Election.   Depending on my mood,  I've voted either Green or Liberal or for one of the many radical left parties that burn not all that brightly before disbanding in mutual hatred.  You might be thinking that surely I voted for Blair in 1997.  Well, I didn't.  I was distrustful of Jack Straw's commitment to civil liberties due to his pre-election bluster about  curfews and clampdowns.  That all seems a bit trivial now after the Iraq War and everything that followed.  Anyway, with that sort of voting record you'd think I would be used to being on the losing side by now.  It's more complicated than that, though, because although I never voted for the winning party, the party of government has always had people like me in mind.  I never voted for tax-efficient pension plans, for example, but that's what I got over the years.  I never voted for tax-free employee share ownership but I lived on the hog of that for a while enjoyed the hope that I could become a thousandaire from a meagre share-holding in tech companies that ultimately had no value.  Of course, not everything has been to my personal advantage but anything that hurt me financially was easily offset by the fact that all UK governments have had people like me in mind when they try to appeal to voters with economic policy.  With few exceptions the world of politics has gone my way even though I voted for the exact opposite.

If you look at the last few years it's clear that vulnerable and poor people have been screwed over by politics.  Screwed over in ways unimaginable in the 80s, unthinkable in the 90s, and unpalatable as recently as the early 2000s.  There are families relying on foodbanks, living long-term in temporary accommodation, being inexpertly prodded and poked by private companies that assess their ability to work.  If they feel fear and despair then that is a perfectly rational response to ongoing events and circumstances.  People in that situation probably don't think, "hey, let's improve our hourly rate by upping sticks to Switzerland and, while we're at it, let's take advantage of the extensive network of cycle paths".   At least some of them probably think it would be good to kick the Prime Minister in the nuts and watch him squirm. Some probably think things are so bad that an experiment with change can't possibly make matters worse.  Perhaps some fell into a rather unpleasant, nationalistic kind of politics that is often associated with a sense of economic helplessness.  When you live on a diet of fear and despair the relative benefits of bi-lateral trade deals are probably not foremost in your mind.  For a good chunk of the population the EU referendum was never really going to involve a reasoned debate about the EU.  How come I only see this now?  Mainly because I found the quality of debate so depressing that I completely stopped watching and just waited for the result.

 Anyway, I understand that sense of despair and fear now. It comes with a feeling of helplessness, finding yourself at the mercy of political forces acting against your interests, perhaps even becoming  a pawn in a game of tit-for-tat.  These unexpected emotions I experienced on  24th June are without doubt completely irrational: denting my hourly rate or relocating to a country with an inferior network of cycle paths is annoying but no more than that.  Not every migrant worker is quite as fortunate, however.  In fact, the only outcome I can really envisage is a net increase in fear and despair. After all, leaving the EU is not going to alter the government's philosophical stance on how they treat the poor in the UK. 

Over and out,

Terry

My next post might be about the Swiss situation.  Thrilling stuff, indeed.