Out of Africa? – At the end of June the Ebola outbreak had infected 759 people and killed 467 across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Yesterday’s update from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that the disease is still spreading – and at an alarming rate.
To be exact 6,553 confirmed or suspected cases and 3,083 deaths have been reported in these three countries. Nigeria and DR Congo add another 20 and 70 cases respectively – even though the Congo outbreak is probably a different strain of the disease. As more international aid and personnel are drafted in and NHS volunteers get added to the mix the hope is that the tide will soon be turned.
But even the optimists are expecting the number of cases to keep growing for months despite some form of treatment being rushed through. Meanwhile the pessimists are predicting global disaster …
Are We There Yet? – Even though the Scottish vote on independence resulted in a 400,000 vote majority for Scotland staying in the UK the politicians on both sides of the border seem slow to get the implications.
In Scotland First Minister Salmond somehow decided to keep himself in post until November and seems determined to create has much dissent as possible in his final days. At Westminster the three party leaders have switched their priorities to the bombing of extremists in Iraq while hoping their back room advisers can find ways to reduce the damage from those last minute promises to the Scottish voters.
So even though Mr Salmond looks set to join The Young Pretender as another lost cause he still clings on. Seemingly holding the belief that loosing a once-in-300 year referendum is just a temporary set-back.
But he is not alone in his belief as today a Voice Of The People rally in Edinburgh pledged to carry on the campaign. This will be followed tomorrow by rallies in Edinburgh and Aberdeen demanding a rerun of the vote. So the fight is not yet over!
A view that Prince Charles Edward Stuart would have surely supported – even though he has now been reduced to decoration on tins of Scottish shortbread. [A spot that one day might be occupied by Mr Salmond himself.]
But the big difference between 1745 and 2014 is in the scale of the ambition. Bonnie Prince Charlie had the objective of being the Scottish leader of a united British Isles not just of the northern fraction of a split kingdom. So Salmond for Prime Minister and moving the UK parliament to Holyrood anyone?
Now that the Scottish vote on the future of the United Kingdom is out of the way the politicians at Westminster will have to reluctantly address the views of the rest of us. Certainly the Welsh and Northern Irish will be looking to their national politicians in Cardiff and Belfast to put their case and not miss out on any extra powers.
But with Scotland grabbing the attention for years politicians have largely ignored the regional differences in England. Yet Yorkshire alone has a similar number of voters to Scotland. For equality English regions such as Cumbria and Northumberland should be receiving just as much in special treatment as, say, the Scottish Highlands. And Glasgow and Edinburgh should not be getting a bigger share of the British tax spend than similar sized English cities such as Liverpool or Leeds.
Yet for the 83.9% of the UK population that lives in England there is no specific parliament or assembly to represent them and ensure that they get a fair deal.
The obvious political solution is to create the English equivalent of Holyrood in, say, Derby or Nottingham. But that has already been ruled out by Westminster leaders on the grounds of cost. Considering that English tax payers help support the extra politicians and their fine facilities this veto just reinforces the view that England gets second class treatment.
A more radical solution would be to disband the national assemblies and go back to the way things were in the 1990’s – before MSPs and AMs existed. Scrapping them would stop all of us having to pay for this extra layer of politicians and bring Britain in line with a key objective of the EU – increased political union. The logical way to go – but seemingly dead in the political waters.
A poor compromise would be to make Westminster dual purpose; with English issues covered by English MPs and Britain-wide issues open to all. But to accurately reflect English interests then around 85% of parliamentary time would have to be for English MPs only. While the 12% time share for England, Scotland and Wales debates would equate to less than one day per week. This would make it less than worthwhile for their MPs to travel to – and stay in – London. But still this looks to have the right level of cobbled-together bodge-up to appeal to the Westminster sheep.
However the real danger is that nothing will change and the West Lothian question will still lack a genuine solution before the 2015 general election. Then it is just possible that the sweeteners promised to Scotland will have created enough resentment to make change unavoidable.
It is nothing new to say that the current crop of British politicians lack strategic vision. But with a relatively stable and peaceful domestic situation they – and their unelected advisors – can bumble along in their fantasy world without doing too much damage to the average UK citizen. True they can waste billions of our taxes on infrastructure liabilities and public service mis-administration. But that is only money. If Crossrail and HS2 never make a profit, if smart meters fail to cut energy consumption and if wind turbines prove to be no help to the National Grid then they are all just a waste of time, effort and cash. Probably no one died.
But once the politicians turn their dubious skills to international issues then things get a lot more serious – and potentially dangerous. Take Afghanistan. In 2001 British politicians decided to send in our troops – to solve the country’s problems. Thirteen years, 453 UK service personnel deaths and countless millions of pounds later that country is still beset by problems. And it will not take much, once the foreign troops leave, for Afghanistan to fall back to where it was before.
But Afghanistan is just one example. Removing Saddam Hussein got rid of a dangerous and brutal tyrant but has left Iraq in even worse turmoil than before – despite six years of British military help. Intervening in the Libyan civil war deposed another dangerous and brutal tyrant – Colonel Gaddafi. But that country has now fallen into chaos and conflict. Our political leaders have looked for ways to remove Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria. But may have become vaguely aware that there is little public support for more gunboat diplomacy. However this may be just be temporary and reflect concerns about their jobs – given that there is an election next year.
But so far British meddling in foreign conflicts has been at a safe distance from home. This could soon change and bring unforeseen dangers closer to our doorstep. Take, for example, Ukraine and Turkey. In the first our political leaders – via NATO and the EU – could put us in direct conflict with Russia. Not a trivial issue. And in the second Britain’s support for Turkey having EU membership could mean that our borders move all the way east to reach Syria, Iraq and Iran. Then the EU would become responsible for millions of refugees fleeing conflicts and for defending a huge land frontier against an assortment of unpredictable military factions. A time for some basic geography lessons for the Cabinet – before we all get burnt?