Taking back public services

Throughout the world the privatisation of public services is being rejected because it has led to under-investment, price hikes, profit taking and inefficiency. However, undoing privatisation when it involves foreign ownership can run into serious problems.

Tucked into numerous international trade treaties are “Investor Protection” provisions that give foreign companies the ability to sue the government when trying to “take back control”. This type of thing is known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and can result in sky high claims for compensation. It makes it difficult to return privatised agencies to local, public control. In public control energy, water or transport agencies tend to make profits which can be reinvested in the community via improved employment and infrastructure instead of private profits. Public services also tend to outperform private ones in many areas.

This investment protection gives privileges to foreign investors with no enforceable obligations (creating jobs, protecting worker’s rights, upholding environmental protections, universal access). The ISDS tribunals usually consist of 3 for-profit arbitrators who put private investor rights above public interest and where governments cannot appeal a verdict. Consequently governments who sign these loose their democratic rights to regulate and control. ISDS therefore, is an assault on democracy, violates numerous civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and subverts the rule of law.

Governments may be prevented to take action to bring these agencies back into their control due to worries over the size of any claim.

There are grassroots movements growing against these deals being agreed, like the fuss over TTIP recently. These movements help provide a vision of the future, of socially and environmentally just trade regimes where public services are controlled by democratic, not for profit institutions, citizens and workers.

Now is not the time for another referendum

As a Democrat I believe that referendums do have a place and role in civic society.

But a referendum needs to be properly put together and be on an issue that a large number of people want a say on. That means there must be a petition first that passes a threshold of support. What that threshold is depends on whether it is to change things at local authority level or parliamentary level. The threshold should reflect the number of people eligible to vote.For the result of the referendum to be binding a set percentage of those voting (not the electorate, only those that actually vote) must be achieved for it to become binding. That percentage could be as high as 2/3rds of those voting but 60% of those voting as a minimum.

In addition, none of the elected representatives to the body that has to enact the result should be the leading participants on either side of the campaign, they, after all, are the ones who have to implement the result and thus, have a vested interest. And, the “administration” should not be allowed to spend money on campaigning, only on meeting the costs of the ballot.

Further, no referendum can be held on the same issue until15 to 20 years have passed since the last one on that issue.

Until this suggestion is agreed we should not be holding any further referendums in the UK.

A Personal Manifesto – a leap into the future

I recently read a book by Naomi Klein called “No is Not Enough”. It discussed how shock political tactics are being used to generate one crisis after another. Policies that are destroying our environment, our economy, our security and a sense of well-being. It includes information on how to re-dress this, how we can organise to win a better world.

Naomi worked with a number of different people in Canada and came up with a manifesto, independent of political parties, that could be used by various people to take steps to change the future. The Leap Manifesto is aimed at Canada and how it could combat climate change in ways that makes it better for the people living there. Below is my customised version of it.

We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transport, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality.

Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

1 The latest research shows we could get 100% of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy We demand that this shift begin now.

2 No new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard.

3 The time for energy democracy has come: wherever possible, communities should collectively control new clean energy systems.

4 We want a universal program to build and retrofit energy efficient housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities benefit first.

5 We want high-speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transport to unite every community in this country.

6 We need to invest in our decaying public infrastructure so that it can withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

7 We must develop a more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, absorb shocks in the global supply – and produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.

8 We must expand those sectors that are already low-carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media.

9 Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid and often performed by women, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income.

10 We declare that “austerity” is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth. The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available — we just need the right policies to release it. An end to fossil fuel subsidies. Financial transaction taxes. Increased resource royalties. Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people. A progressive carbon tax. Cuts to military spending.

11 We want training and resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to participate in the clean energy economy.

12 We must work swiftly towards a system in which every vote counts and corporate money is removed from political campaigns.

This transformation is our sacred duty to those this country harmed in the past, to those suffering needlessly in the present, and to all who have a right to a bright and safe future.

Now is the time for boldness.

Now is the time to leap.

Make Water a TOP Development Priority

Ze is a 12-year-old girl from Antohobe, Madagascar. It's been her job to collect water every day since she was just 7. If Ze could turn on a tap to get clean water, then she could complete her education and her future would be transformed.

Help make this a reality by standing up for her right to clean water!

Water and sanitation didn't make the shortlist of international development goals in 2000, and today millions still live without taps or toilets. Girls like Ze spend hours — time that they could be spending in school — making long walks to collect water for their families.

If we don't act now, then the millions living with dire water conditions will continue to suffer.

Leaders from all over the world are meeting this month to discuss the international development goals for the next 15 years. Water and sanitation must make the cut this year, so that girls like Ze can attend school in place of collecting water for their families. Tell world leaders to prioritise water and sanitation. We need clean water for everyone, everywhere by 2030!

Water is essential but growing populations are draining supplies

For life you need water but, millions of people on our little planet live in places with little or no water. The Horn of Africa is just one example.

The 16 most water stressed states are in the Middle East and North Africa. All are using more water than they receive - 700 times more in Libya's case. This area's population is increasing as grain production plummets.

The deep aquifers that enabled crops to green the deserts are almost exhausted. The oil that fires the desalination plants is dwindling. It's a 'perfect storm' of water, food and energy crises. Mexico City is sinking as its aquifers are sucked dry and freshwater tankers dock in Barcelona.

The planet's population tripled last century but the thirst for water grew six-fold, most of it sprinkled on fields. The UN predicts that by 2025, 2/3rds of us will experience water shortages.

China, struck by its own droughts, is importing water to produce its food and other goods. It is seeking to acquire land in wetter places to grow and send food home.

Global warming will evaporate more moisture but this may fall even harder in already wet areas rather than relieve arid areas. Desalination is very expensive, energy intensive and heavy on use of carbon.

Lack of clean water and sanitation in poor nations remains a problem especially as many donor countries have taken aid money away from water projects - it's not "sexy enough" - despite there being a Millennium Goal to half the number of people without basic sanitation by 2015.

Fresh water can be imported but at a price many can't afford. However, there may be a simple solution in some parts of the world: plug leaks, recycle waste and treasure each drop.

Reversing Type 2 Diabetes

At the Highland Games back in August 2015 the people doing the First Aid offered “health checks” to the volunteer helpers. I took up the offer as it was some time since I had seen a GP. They said there was nothing wrong with my lungs or heart however, they strongly recommended I saw a GP as quickly as possible owing to my blood pressure readings.

So, the following Monday that’s what I did and was really lucky to get a cancellation appointment. The GP confirmed my high blood pressure and put me on medication right away. I was then asked to come back for other tests and told to be seen before I went on holiday. So, the afternoon before going away I went back and was told, “you do realise you are diabetic?” No, of course I didn’t! So, type 2 I presumed as I forgot to ask and wasn’t put in insulin. Just another set of medication and advised briefly on diet – if it come out the ground it’s good, otherwise bad, no mention of fish. Changes to my lifestyle are recommended but would have to wait until I returned from holiday at end of August.

I have received advice on diet since then but, it’s a bit general. I’m trying to pay more attention to the nutrition information of food products, however, some companies don’t use the traffic light system to make it easier to read. I tend to avoid those companies products (Kelloggs, Bird’s Eye to name a few). It has been suggested that I look at website for recipe ideas. However, most I’ve looked at suggest the meals are for 4 people. In fact, if you look closely at most recipes you can’t find many for a single person. It’s a bit like food shopping in general how many food items are aimed at single people? Despite there being a growing number of people living on their own, the grocers and supermarkets aren’t paying that much attention to this market yet.

At present my blood pressure has lowered, not enough, my weight hasn’t changed much but I am trying to eat more greens. It will be a slow process.

Can type 2 diabetes be reversed? That’s what I’m trying to find out – the hard way!

Since being diagnosed in August I’ve been trying to watch my diet. My GP wrote to me offering me the chance to participate in a trial (Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiReCT). This trial aims to reverse my diagnosis by putting me on a weight loss programme for 12 weeks then teach me how to eat properly for 8 weeks. This weight loss programme is 800 calories per day (soups and shakes). I come off my medication during this period. I’m monitored by NHS Nutritionists throughout the full 20 weeks.

I started at beginning of December 2015 at about 95Kg. The actual dieting part is quite hard and I am trying to do my regular exercise however, it makes doing me regular walks a bit tough sometimes – running on empty – but, they’ve encouraged me to stick with this, even if it’s not briskly.

I’ve also been advised not to rush out and buy new clothes on the diet phase. As I live alone I’m not buying food for 12 weeks so, money saved will help with a new wardrobe when I’m at the end of this period. Even at the end of the 20 weeks I will still be supported in maintaining whatever weight I end up at.

In April 2016 I was re-tested by the trial, my weight was down to 79.8Kg, my HbA1c was down to 36, success, my type 2 diabetes was in remission. But the trial continues as I now have to start eating solid food again gradually. My walking was back to normal, no “running on empty” feelings. Eventually I as up to 1200 to 1400 calories a day. Not as easy as it sounds. I will still be checked up on every 4 weeks.

In October 2016 it was the turn of my GP Practice to call me back for annual check up. My HbA1c count was 37, still in remission. but keeping weight off is still an issue. In November 2016, I was signed up to a 2nd year of the trial. They want to establish the long term effects of losing weight, increasing exercise and changing health policy.

As of now - April 2017my weight has gone up to around 88Kg, it’s still quite difficult to eat properly. I am trying to concentrate on low calorie food items, replacing sweet stuff especially. I need to reverse some of the weight gain otherwise the diabetes may come back again. I may also have to consider increasing the pace I walk at or changing the type of exercise I do, be more active.

I would say reversing your diagnosis can be done. It requires effort and willingness to make changes to what you eat and how you live.


European Future

The European Union (EU) could have showed the world how peace and solidarity can be snatched from the jaws of centuries-long conflict and bigotry. It is built on common values: democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion and a free press. Today however, a common bureaucracy and a common currency divide European peoples that were beginning to unite despite differences in language and culture.

Today, Europeans are feeling let down by EU institutions everywhere. From Helsinki to Lisbon, from Dublin to Crete, from Leipzig to Aberdeen. At the heart of this lies a highly political, top-down, opaque decision-making process that is presented as ‘apolitical’, ‘technical’, ‘procedural’ and ‘neutral’. Its purpose appears to prevent Europeans from exercising democratic control over their money, communities, working conditions and environment. Decisions are made in secret.

Europe’s pitiful reaction to its banking and debt crises, to the refugee crisis, to the need for a coherent foreign, migration and anti-terrorism policy, are all examples of what happens when solidarity loses its meaning.

Then look at what has happened in the UK - a vote to leave that no-one understands. That doesn't mean the UK should just ignore the EU, it can't, it has to live with it, cope with it in some way.

Some Brexit arguments are based on falsehoods in that the UK can continue with the single market without the freedom of movement as it's just a "free trade agreement". Free trade however, means removing tariffs so that companies can trade without paying different levels of tax on the goods they buy and sell. But the single market is much more ambitious. It is about harmonising all the standards and regulations that apply to goods and services across Europe, so that companies can trade with each other on a truly level playing field.

The UK at some point in the future, may wish to reverse it's decision and re-join. But that will require it to sign up to the Euro and Shengen. But before it does so, perhaps it should say it will only re-join if the EU has become more democratic in the interim. If it doesn't, several countries may have already followed the UK's lead and left, if they've been allowed to. Countries that are members of the Euro may not be allowed a say, may not be granted a referendum unless something serious happens.

There are some ways in which the EU could become more democratic and accountable. Bring about full transparency in decision-making (e.g. live-streaming meetings of the European Council, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings, full disclosure of trade negotiation documents which will actually make it easier for Members of the European Parliament (MEP) to read them, publication of European Central Bank minutes etc.). It also requires a full-fledged European democracy, featuring a sovereign Parliament that respects national self-determination and sharing or pooling power with national Parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils. Elections of MEPs should no longer be done on "national party lines" but by people standing under European Political Party manifestos. This will stop these elections being seen as a "progress report" on the current national government and give the European Parliament (EP) a higher profile.

The EP also requires to reduce it's costs. It has a secretariat that meets in Luxembourg, committee meetings in Brussels and plenary meetings in Strasbourg and Brussels that require wholesale movement of people and materials 12 times per year. Strasbourg is the "official" seat of the Parliament but most EU institutions are based in Brussels. This is "fixed" by Treaty and France would veto any change to move to Brussels. So perhaps make it permanent in Strasbourg.

Question is, will anyone be making these arguments?

Federal United Kingdom

Recent events have suggested the time has come for the United Kingdom to embrace a more Federal structure of political engagement. The old structures are crumbling. The UK - the most successful multi-national state in modern history is at risk of breaking up.

A new federal structure that is fit for purpose is as important as the arrangements for leaving the European Union. If this can’t be worked out then, it’s likely Scotland will secede from the UK and seek its own way in the world.

The recent EU Referendum has exposed the UK’s divisions. A federal arrangement bringing decision making closer to the people is required to heal these divisions. It requires the existing union to be replaced with fully devolved government in the 4 nations of the UK with each having sovereignty over its affairs. Westminster would be reduced with powers over common defence and security matters “pooled” as it were. The 4 nations would have “devolution max”. England would have its own parliament or devolution to cities and regions if that’s what the English want. Disillusionment with politicians, the sense of disconnectedness and abandonment must be sorted. Creating a new structure would help address this.

However, on its own it’s not enough. Along with this structure is a requirement to change the voting system away from first past the post and replace it with a more proportional system of elections. My preference is for STV PR with multi member constituencies. I’d go further and say the party lists for each constituency should be “open” not “closed”. If you electing 5/6 people to a constituency each party should put up 5/6 people and let the voters decide which individuals are elected. at present at most STV PR elections for example in Scotland local government each party only puts up 1 candidate in wards it expects to get people elected from not the 3 or 4 that are available. Open lists give the electorate the choice not the party.

The House of Lords should either be abolished as part of this restructure or, perhaps, made more democratic and function as a senate of the “regions”.

A number of the world’s multi-national states (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Sudan) have broke apart. Preventing the disintegration of the UK is a significant challenge.