Referendum, they think it’s all over, but it isn’t yet

To Brexit or not to Brexit, that is the question hanging over the UK´s politicians at the moment. But, surely, the majority of people voted ‘Leave’ in the referendum; it must all be over bar the shouting.

Whatever that might mean for people with disabilities, whatever that might mean for the health service, whatever it may mean for anything, it is decided. That’s right, isn’t it?

Well, it is true that the referendum resulted in a Leave vote but that certainly does not need to be the end of it – because the vote was only advisory and is not legally enforceable. So, parliament could, and I stress could, decide to reject that advice.

The House of Commons has more pro-Europe MPs than antis. If a proposal to leave Europe is put to a vote, they have enough votes to defeat it. And since the referendum was such a close run race with the majority for Leave being so small, just 3.8% of those who voted, who’s to say they wouldn’t?

Other MPs are demanding a House of Commons vote to try and stop Brexit altogether. Can they do that? Well, they could but the real question is, would they?

Scottish First Secretary Nicola Sturgeon threatens to block Brexit.

Scottish First Secretary Nicola Sturgeon threatens to block Brexit.

Already, pro-Euro MPs are saying that even accepting the referendum result, the voters did not vote to leave the single market or stop free movement. These are things that need to be negotiated independently.

To me, as the vote last Thursday was only advisory, I´d question whether anyone has the right to notify the European Union of the UK´s decision to withdraw -to activate Article 50. Only Parliament has the constitutional authority to take such a step and that means that the House of Commons has to be persuaded to agree.

Another problem for the Brexit team is that Scotland voted emphatically, by 62% to 38%, to remain in Europe. Scottish First Secretary and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has warned that the Scottish Parliament will try and block the UK leaving the EU using an obscure legal mechanism even if it infuriates the English.

The First Minister said Brexit requires a legislative consent motion (LCM) from the Scottish Parliament as it impacts directly on Holyrood’s devolved responsibilities.

She confirmed that SNP MSPs would seek to block any such motion, even if this meant that this blocked the UK from leaving the EU, because this would reflect the overwhelming Remain vote in Scotland. Although the SNP is a minority government, a pro-Europe majority is guaranteed with the addition of six green MSPs.

Europe IN or OUT? You might have thought it’s all over – but it isn’t yet.


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UK referendum: Vote to protect those with disabiities

rerferendum flagsWith the biggest decision in a generation set to be decided by the people of the UK, it’s time to protect everyone with a disability in tomorrow’s referendum on the country’s future. A future that is balanced on the proverbial knife’s edge.

Yes, tomorrow is the big day, referendum day, and the opinion polls have been swinging about all over the place. That’s when all good Brits should go to the polls to vote whether the nation should Remain the European Union or to Leave it.

Many arguments have been voiced by people on both sides of the debate but only one interests me. How will those of us with disabilities get on if a Brexit takes place?

Unfortunately, a vote to Leave looks to be about the worst we could do. Whatever complaints we have about the benefit system now, and there are plenty, it is set to get worse if the UK leaves the European Union.

Politicians from both the country’s major political parties agree that the EU has helped improve British disability discrimination law. It has made sure that it covers all employers, no matter what size and gives protection to anyone associated with any person with a disability. This has really helped the country’s six million carers.

The European single market helps to open the world to disabled people, building on the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. This it does by pushing the frontiers of accessible travel, products, services and the internet.

I just cannot make any sense of the Leave campaign’s determination for the UK to go it alone in these areas. It wouldn’t mean that we’d be free, just isolated.

A joint letter to the Guardian newspaper, signed by Lord Hague and five MPs, said “Our parties will continue to take different approaches and will sometimes disagree.

“We share the belief, however, that more progress on disabled people’s freedom and opportunities will happen if we remain in the EU. As the veteran disability rights campaigner John Evans recently said of the EU referendum, ‘we want to pull down barriers, not erect them’.

As former ministers for disabled people, we are united in our view that the rights and opportunities of disabled people are best protected and advanced by the UK’s continued membership of the European Union.

The MPs who signed the letter along with Lord (William) Hague (Conservative) were: Margaret Hodge (Labour), Maria Miller (Con), Maria Eagle (Lab), Alistair Burt (Con) and Anne McGuire (Lab).

So, if you have a vote in the UK and have a disability, or care for someone who has, be sure to vote ‘Remain’ in tomorrow’s referendum. Vote ‘Remain’ to protect all of us who have disabilities.


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European Referendum: Obama says ‘stay’, Trump says ‘go’ but the British really don’t care what US thinks

Donald TrumpDonald Trump (Image copyright Reuters)

Why is it, do you think, that American politicians are quick to give their opinions, often unwanted, about events in other countries but are less happy, even offended, when the situation is reversed?

During his ‘goodbye’ official visit to Britain, last month, President Barack Obama said he wanted the UK to remain in the European Union. He said Britain was at its best when “helping to lead” a strong EU and membership made it a “bigger player” on the world stage.

Now, the man almost certain to be the Republican candidate in this November’s presidential election, business mogul Donald Trump has said he thinks the UK would be “better off without” the European Union.

Trump talked on Fox News about the migration crisis and said: “I think the migration has been a horrible thing for Europe, a lot of that was pushed by the EU.”

To be fair, though, ‘The Donald’ did say that it was just his opinion and not a recommendation about which way to vote in Britain’s referendum on June 23. “I know Great Britain very well, I know the country very well, I have a lot of investments there. I want them to make their own decision,” he said.

President Obama had urged the UK to remain in the EU and said Britain would go to the “back of the queue” for trade deals with the US if it votes to leave.

His intervention in UK domestic politics sparked an angry reaction among Leave campaigners.

British Euro vote campaign officially gets under way as US presidential hopefuls face New York primary

euro vote

As electoral campaigns go, the official 10-weeks allowed for the UK public to decide which way to vote in the referendum on Europe is nothing when compared to how long it takes for the USA to choose a president.

The four main contenders for the two party nominations for president announced their candidacies from March to June 2015 – that’s as long as 20 months before the eventual November 2016 polling day. Of course, that includes the campaigns leading up to the two party conventions in July – but that still leaves a final party versus party campaign of some 15 weeks.

In comparison, UK general elections that choose the government, and so the prime minister, have a final campaign time of less than six weeks.

So, as the presidential candidates prepare for their New York state primaries on Tuesday (19), the British referendum about Europe officially began yesterday, Friday April 15.

On June 23, British voters are being asked to choose whether or not they wish the country to stay as a member of the European Union. The ballot paper question will read:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

And voters will be asked to choose between Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union.

Of course, the Remain and Leave campaigners have been making their points of view known for months but, with the official campaign now under way, with the lead campaigns designated as Britain Stronger In Europe and Vote Leave.

However, all is not as it should be with the Leave.EU group claiming it should have been made the lead leave group, that the criteria were not followed correctly and that it is going to seek a judicial review.

If that turns out to be the case, it could mean that the referendum might be delayed by weeks if not months.

And that is not the only problem. There is a separate legal action in the works. Lawyers for expat pensioner Harry Shindler have said his judicial review against the UK’s expat voting ban will be heard in the High Court as planned. His lawsuit is on behalf of all British expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years and so are denied votes by a UK law that David Cameron’s government is committed to repeal – but not in time for the referendum.

An exact date for the hearing has not yet been set, but should the judicial review be successful, the government will be forced to rush through legislation allowing disenfranchised British expats to vote on June 23. According to Richard Stein of law firm Leigh Day, the government has time to change the law and empower long-term expats in the EU to vote on a matter which will seriously affect their chosen lifestyles.

Putting those two legal matters aside, and the time it would take to register all the extra voters if Mr Shindler is successful, former Labour chancellor Alastair Darling has accused Leave campaigners, who are calling on the money spent on EU membership to be pumped into the NHS instead, of “playing with fire” and peddling a “fantasy future”.

Polls suggest the referendum is currently too close to call, although we know that much can change in the next 10 weeks.


Flat rate universal basic income plan for everyone whether in work, unemployed or with disabilities

ubi swiss ubi posterSwiss to vote on UBI on June 5.

Several countries around the world are talking about the idea of introducing Universal Basic Income (UBI), not to be confused with Universal Credit which is being introduced in the UK to replace several means-tested welfare benefits.

Universal Basic Income is where the government pays everybody a set amount, whether they work or not, in place of means-tested benefits. Of course, the incentive to work is still said to exist as most people will want to have more money than paid by UBI.

On June 5, Switzerland is holding a referendum of its citizens that, if successful, means it will become the first country to provide universal basic income. They will be voting on a plan that could see all adults receive about 2,500 Swiss Francs (approximately £1,700; $2,460) a month, with children receiving 625 Francs (about £445; $615) for each child. There will be no additional disability benefits.

The Swiss federal government estimates that the proposal will cost around 208 billion francs a year and the Swiss parliament has called for voters to reject the proposal with all parties united against it. Only 14 MPs supported the basic income initiative. One MP described the initiative as “the most dangerous and harmful initiative that has ever been submitted,” mentioning the risks of immigration, disincentive to work, and that the basic income proposed would not be financially feasible.

The Federal Council, Switzerland’s executive branch, also recommended its rejection, noting that UBI would cause low-paid jobs to disappear or be transferred abroad and would send women back to house work or care work. They said that implementing the initiative would also raise taxes and weaken incentive to work.

To understand how this proposal has come so far despite opposition from the government, you need to know that Switzerland has a form of direct democracy alongside its Parliament. Citizens simply have to gather 100,000 signatures calling for a vote on a proposal, and a ballot must be held with its result binding.

There have been UBI-type policies and experiments in both India and Brazil that have suggested that, contrary to fears about ‘welfare sapping people’s initiative, a basic income might actually increase people’s appetite for work. It seems to increase their sense of stability.

In the Netherlands, in the city of Utrecht, there is a pilot UBI-ish scheme whereby people on benefits are paid unconditionally.  Other Dutch towns and cities look set to follow Utrecht’s example. Finland has plans to pilot an even more ambitious kind of basic income.

UBI ideas have been suggested in other countries, including both the USA and UK. So far, however, no firm proposals have been put forward in either nation.


Everyone’s vote should matter – but does it?

ballot box

Uncertainty is hanging over the heads of people in so many different countries this year as questions relating to their futures are being decided at the ballot box. Well, they should be.

In the USA, the various Democratic and Republican candidates are fighting through the primary and caucus system to win enough support to win their party’s nomination as candidate in the presidential election in November.

In Europe, there are three important decisions being made: the Irish general election; the UK referendum on whether to remain in or to leave the European Union; and the efforts In Spain to form a government following the December general election that left no party with enough seats to govern alone.

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Back in the States, there are really only two contenders for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Hillary is by far the favourite although her early victories have been close – some decided by the toss of a coin and others through the help of unregistered voters. It seems that not all is as it should be in the States. My wife, Lisa, is American and she is not surprised by the shenanigans. “Votes don’t matter in America. People don’t really choose candidates or the President. Look at the New Hampshire primary; Sanders won 60% of the popular vote but, because of party rules, Clinton won the most delegates; tell me how that is fair or democratic,” she says.

On the other side of the political debate, the Republican fight seems to be only of concern now to three would-be presidents: front runner Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Others still in the race seem to be out of contention. As the campaign heads towards ‘Super Tuesday’, it looks as though Trump may soon be in an unbeatable position to be named as the party candidate.

flag Ireland

Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow, February 26, to elect its new government. Opinion polls point to Fianna Fail replacing Labour as the second largest party. Fine Gael looks set to remain the largest party, just, but with fewer seats No-one is predicted to achieve an overall majority.

flag Spain

Spain’s parliament meets on March 2 in an attempt to install PSOE (socialist) leader Pedro Sanchez as prime minister. To do so, he will need to win the support of the majority of deputies choosing to vote. Some may abstain. If the PSOE leader cannot receive the necessary backing the PP (conservatives) may be asked once more to form a government but  they have already declined once. Should all attempts fail, Spain will go to the polls once more in June.

flag UK flag Europe

The UK faces a vote in the form of a referendum to either remain in the European Union or to leave it, the so-called Brexit. The vote takes place on June 23 and the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns both have support from politicians in all the main UK-wide parties. This referendum is too distant and the campaign too long to hazard a prediction yet.


HSCT, sunshine, MS and other musings

gwen higgsbernie sandersHCdavid cameron_edited Gwen Higgs, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and David Cameron

Gwen’s story, warts and all

HSCT, stem cell therapy, and its use to treat multiple sclerosis patients has been on television, in publications and even this blog during the second half of January. In just a couple of days, or so, I shall be bringing you the story of Gwen Higgs from diagnoses, through her battle against both MS and her neurologist, her treatment in Russia, and how she is today.

It is an honest story that does not gloss over her struggles or her embarrassment. Be sure not to miss out.

So this is winter?

Weather here in the south of Spain continues to be most pleasant. In the last two days, Lisa and I have enjoyed lunch outdoors on the terrace while we soaked up the sun;  so good for my Vitamin D.

Forecasts for Thursday and Friday don’t look as good with highs of only 12° and 14°C/ 54° and 57°F respectively – but warmer weather should return on Saturday.

I am still not really acclimatised yet but certainly enjoying the sunshine in which it is hot enough to sunbathe. It just seems ridiculous to be able to do that in the so-called winter months of January and February.

Back to Malaga

Our car was collected today and taken back to the automatic gearbox specialist in Malaga but, this time, they brought us a courtesy car. So there is no need now to rely on neighbours’ goodwill to take us shopping and what not.

Six coin tosses decide Iowa Democratic winner

So six of the Iowa State Democratic party delegates as elected by the caucus were decided by coin tosses as both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders achieved equal votes in six of the areas being counted.

Now if six dead heats aren’t coincidental enough, the fact that Hillary won all six coin tosses is just too much for me. Don’t worry, I am sure conspiracy theories will soon arise.

In Iowa, Sanders won 21 of the delegates without a coin toss; Hillary gained 22 INCLUDING all six dead heats decided by the flip of a coin. Now tell me that Hillary won in Iowa. If just one toss had gone to Sanders, then he would have won 22-21. Enough said.

UK Euro battle lines were drawn early

On the eastern side of the Atlantic, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is hailing the outcome of his negotiations with Europe as successful. Whether they are, or aren’t, is another matter.

What everybody needs to realise, however, is that the ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ campaigns for the UK’s promised referendum on membership of the European Union were already decided before the results of the renegotiation were known.

Those determined to stay, and those determined to leave, had declared their positions and would be campaigning for victory in the referendum. In reality, the renegotiations did not matter at all.