Last Sunday there were elections in Greece and today it is the turn of Catalonia – not some new country but the region of north-east Spain centered on Barcelona. However this regional vote is more critical than most in that a significant vote for the pro-independence parties could be the first step towards a Catalan secession in 2017 and, potentially, unilateral independence from Spain. Then Catalunya would become a new European country. But only if it could overcome – or ignore – the many threats, obstacles and warnings coming from Madrid and Brussels.
It is, therefore, a vote that is being closely watched by our EU presidents (all five of them), the Spanish government and any region with hopes of independence. And there are a surprising number of separatist movements just within Europe. Flanders, Åland, Veneto and other regions of Spain are just some of the more prominent examples.
But the region within Britain that is still looking south is, of course, Scotland. And despite clearly loosing its once-in-a-life-time independence vote there remains much interest in the Catalan vote. This continued interest is reflected in the SNP leader’s statement earlier this month – It would be wrong to propose another referendum without a fundamental change of circumstances or a strong indication that a significant number of those who voted No last year had changed their minds. But it would also be wrong – in the face of a clear and material shift in circumstances or public opinion – for any one politician or party to rule out another referendum.
So if the vote taking place in north-east Spain today sets in train events that lead to a new European country would that be enough to create a swing in public mood towards another vote in Scotland?
Possibly. But first the SNP would have to change its position on the EU – since it is Brussels not Westminster – that would ultimately block Scotland’s plans for independence. Westminster might delay and complain but would ultimately concede. However the Eurocrats would have too much to loose to ever agree – unless, of course, the UK had decided by then to leave the EU. If so Scotland would be most welcome to join the EU as an independent region – if only to get back at the British.
On Sunday the Greek politicians will again be asking for a mandate from the people – for the third time this year. Last time it was a referendum on austerity plans and this time it is a second attempt at national elections.
Considering that the promises made before the January elections were not met, and that the views of the majority in the referendum were not followed, the population must have little faith in this latest round of voting.
Certainly there is little enthusiasm for more voting with the economy still in dire straits, a quarter of workers jobless and strict limits on cash withdrawals at banks. One interviewee said “What’s the point of going back to the voting booth all the time? Nobody trusts anyone anymore … They all lied to us and nothing has changed; it’s still terrible.” So while today’s media headlines concentrate on migrants going through Greece from Syria, Libya, Iraq, etc it is the migration of young Greek professionals – such as doctors and engineers – to Northern Europe that will impact the country even more in the long term.
With recent opinion polls being shown to be seriously flawed no one is prepared to forecast the outcome. Will the mood swing further against austerity or will voters accept that their country is going to be in hock to the EU for decades?
But at least the 86,000 million euro Greek bailout is still in place. However that leaves little room for winning parties to do anything other than follow the terms imposed by its lenders for the next three years. It was also hoped that the bailout agreement last month would mean that the UK could get back its ring-fenced 1,000 million euro emergency loan. But the absence of any announcement by the Chancellor / Treasury suggests that it has disappeared into the black hole. If so then that’s another cut to our public services coming up to pay for it …
In a classic piece of bad timing last week saw several announcements that were not intended to be connected. First came the announcement that Eggborough Power Station would close – due to the effects of the UK’s carbon tax. You may not have heard of Eggborough but it produces around 4% of the UK’s electricity. This is not the first power station to close, of course. Blowing up power station cooling towers has been a popular attraction in Britain for decades. But Eggborough does come very soon after the closures of Longannet in Fife and Ferrybridge C in Yorkshire. [And the closure of the last deep coal mine due to a lack of UK contracts.]
Then, just one day later, came the announcement that the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley Point would not meet its 2023 target start date. The fact that no other nuclear power stations will come on stream this decade makes the UK look very vulnerable for years ahead.
Also last week Drax and Infinis Energy announced they had initiated judicial review proceedings against the Treasury over its decision to end certain subsidies to renewable energy firms. Since these are worth around £5 million per month to Drax that could become a critical case. Drax is another major generator providing around 7% of the UK capacity. Making it uneconomical to run would be a big loss.
But further checking around reveals that our lack of electricity is not just a longer-term problem. There is a real prospect that the winter of 2016-17 will see UK demand exceed the total available supply. And not just the normal daily supply but our maximum generating capacity with all power stations running at their peak output. Parts of Britain would then become, quite literally, powerless.
So the prospect of Grandads moving somewhere warm for the winter may switch from a nice-to-have to essential for survival … in just over one year’s time!
European governments have been aware of the problem for months, if not years, yet still seem to have been surprised and confused by the recent rapid increase in mass migration from the Middle East and Africa. The resulting chaotic scenes around the edges of the EU have prompted the politicians to take action; but with little co-ordination or clear objectives. It is hard to blame migrants for wanting to get to somewhere better; even if their expectations of what awaits them in Europe are unrealistic. Even Germany cannot provide them with everything they expect and need.
But with Europe’s current policies there seems to be no option other than simply accommodating whoever gets over one of its many porous borders. So the warnings made here last September are starting to come true even without Turkey joining the EU. In response Germany and France have apparently decided to assign migrant quotas to each country in an attempt to spread the financial burden. They claim this will protect one of the EU’s key objectives – free movement. But sending, say, 5,000 migrants to Luxembourg when they really want to go to Germany will simply mean that the 5,000 stay the minimum possible time there and then use this free movement policy to relocate to Germany anyway. Without border controls what is there to stop them?
How different for any Grandad that wants to move closer to family members or simply retire in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, etc. But then the UK does to suffer from any large scale civil conflicts .. well not yet.