Category Archives: Europe

An Independent London? Disillusioned Londoners Are Thinking About Going It Alone

Britain’s impending departure from the European Union is leading to increasing calls for autonomy and self-government for its pro-EU capital, London.

Almost 60% of Londoners voted to remain in the EU in 2016’s Referendum, and the turmoil which has followed the Brexit vote has provoked some to call for the capital to go it alone.

Geoff Hinkley and Rizwan Syed are part of a fledgling organisation named Londependence, which aims to represent Londoners disillusioned with Westminster.

Mr Hinkley said: “Brexit has shown that London can’t trust England to make good decisions about a shared future. And without that trust, do we have a future together at all? Sometimes a relationship just isn’t salvageable and you have to walk away.”

A YouGov poll conducted just after the 2016 Referendum indicated that 11% of people wanted London to become a separate country.

A petition for London to join the EU as a separate country gained more than 180,000 signatures.

In 2017 Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy wrote in The Independent that London should become a city-state in the event of a ‘hard Brexit’.

The alienation between the country and the capital can also be felt on the ground.

Mr Syed, a former journalist and current web developed, said: “you hear people say it in coffeeshops ‘oh London, its like its own country.’”

Londependence are planning to launch a political party, which would aim to capitalise on this disillusionment and give Londoners an alternative vote. Its founders however remain realistic about their prospects.

Mr Hinkley added: “we are trying to build an idea that people will vote for an the only way to get more than a candidate’s name on a ballot paper is to have a political party.

“We don’t have any illusions about winning much just yet but it shows we know where we want to go.”

“We are a movement in its infancy. We’re not in a position to launch a broad appeal to public. Our immediate goal is just to be doing something that people who are interested in the idea of Londependence can get involved in – even if that something is not all that effective yet.”

The group seek greater autonomy and self government for the capital, which polls suggest is a relatively popular idea amongst Londoners.

YouGov’s July 2016 survey found that 23% of Londoners want a London Parliament, with devolved powers similar to Scotland’s.

“We want to be free to use our city’s own considerable talents to fix the problems that matter to Londoners. We are sick of London subsidising the rest of the country while Londoners are shouted down as metropolitan elites or foreign interlopers.” added Mr Hinkley.

While Brexit has been the catalyst for much of this dissatisfaction, the cultural, political, and ideological differences between London and England have in any case been widening in recent years.

London’s population is just under 60% white, compared to 86% for England and Wales.

Around 9% of England’s population are aged 25-34,  with that age group forming 24% of Inner London’s inhabitants.

The 2011 Census showed that 37% of London’s population was foreign born, the world’s second highest foreign born population after New York’s. This number falls to around 14% for the UK as a whole.

These differences are visible in UK politics. A look at a map of the 2017 General Election results shows London as an island of Labour-red amongst a sea of Conservative-blue.

Londoners envious of successful independent city state, Singapore, are now taking inspiration. How apt are the comparisons between the two cities?

Singapore and London bear some interesting similarities. Both are financial superpowers, have a multi-ethnic population, and carry tremendous soft power.

Singapore was incorporated into the Federation of Malaya, along with North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak, in 1963, to form Malaysia.

This was largely done on the premise of a customs union, which Singaporeans felt would boost their economy.

Malayan nationalists were however wary of Singapore and it’s ethnic Chinese majority, which they felt could upset the country’s ethnic and political balance.

It was feared that Chinese Singaporeans would harbour Communist sympathies, giving that movement a platform in Malaysia proper, and allowing for Beijing to influence Malaysian affairs.

This led Malaysia to unanimously vote Singapore out of the federation, effectively forcing independence on the city state.

Singapore today is a thriving financial superpower, and is viewed by many as a model for successful statecraft. Many in Malaysia sorely regret its expulsion.  

Parallels can be seen here with London’s relationship with England and the EU.

Like Singapore’s when compared to Malaysia, London’s population is vastly different ethnically to England’s in general.

Londoners fear significant damage to its economy should Britain leave the European Customs Union, just as failure to establish a customs union post-independence damaged Malaysia economically and hindered Singaporean/Malaysian relations.

Malaysia could not reconcile itself with Singapore’s assumed natural predisposition to left-leaning politics, and as Londoners shift increasingly left politically, this could be reflected by those in England who view those in the capital as ‘metropolitan elites’ and ‘foreign interlopers’.

It is no wonder that secessionists in the capital look to the Lion City as an example.

London however remains very much the English capital. Unlike many western countries, in which various cities serve important roles, London is England’s cultural, political, and financial centre.

While initiatives such as Northern Powerhouse fail to get off the ground, London continues to establish itself as the world’s pre-eminent ‘global city’.

An England without London is almost as hard to imagine as an independent London, and it is not easy to predict which of the two would be more successful.

While fledgling organisations like Londependence are embryonic at this stage, London’s power relative to the nation as a whole could see small movements like this one make a huge impact.   

Thousands March on London to Demand Brexit People’s Vote

Thousands marched on London today calling for a second Brexit referendum and the revocation of Article 50.

The “Put it To The People” march travelled from Park Lane to Parliament Square, with organisers claiming that more than a million people took part.

A petition calling for the revocation of Article 50 gained four million signatures this week, after the EU agreed to delay the UK’s exit until April.

Protester Jen Llywelyn, 70, from Ceredigion in Wales, said: “I’ve travelled because I suffer from depression, and I’m getting more and more depressed as this madness continues.”

Mrs Llywelyn said that Theresa May had ignored the Welsh people and their interests, and that Brexit could stoke Welsh nationalism.

The march is set to rivals 2003’s Stop the War March, when more than 750,000 protested the UK’s co-operation in the invasion of Iraq, as the largest this century in this country.

Huge crowds gathered on Park Lane for a 1pm start, with many people carrying flags, homemade banners and signs.

Speakers at Parliament Square included London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Sandi Toksvig, and Siobhan McSweeney, of Channel 4’s Derry Girls, who reiterated the importance of the EU to the Northern Irish peace process.

Christopher Penney, 67, of Leicester, said he hopes the UK will eventually revoke Article 50, and that political divisions were causing the current stalemate.

Mr Penney said: “I hate to say it but I think we’ve got right on our side, correctness on our side.”

BREXIT - a timline

Theresa May has insisted that a second EU referendum is not on the cards.

Frank Connor, who is a member of the Green Party, suggested that the ‘disaster’ of Brexit could allow for eventual parliamentary and electoral reform.

Mr Connor said: “I’m kind of hoping that this week something nuclear will happen.”

The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on the 12th of April.

Ist Südtirol Italien? A Brief Explanation of The South-Tyrol Problem

Quick Facts South TyrolNestled in Italy’s scenic north-east, amongst the Dolomite mountain range, lies the autonomous province of Alto Adige. While such a description may encourage the intrusion of any number of images stereotypically Italian into one’s mind, thoughts of pizza, pasta and wine would in most cases be misplaced within the region. Südtirol is the more commonly used term, strudel and schnitzel the more commonly eaten food, and German the more commonly spoken language. For South Tyrol is an Austrian-enclave within Italy, populated predominantly by ethnic Germans and locked within a foreign land as a result of decades old geopolitical arrangements closely tied to the alliances made during the World Wars. As Austrian nationalism flares in the wake of the rise of the far-right Freedom Party, are tensions growing between Rome and Vienna?

Italian designs on this historically German-speaking region can be traced back to the Napoleonic Era. Napoleon, in a bid to supplant the power of the various German micro-states, divided the Tyrol region between Bavaria and the Kingdom of Italy. While the division did not last long due to Tyrol’s reunification under Austro-Hungarian administration at the Congress of Vienna, South-Tyrol’s association with the wider Italian region had been ingrained into the ideology of many Italian nationalists. The eventual unification of Italy, achieved in spite of Austro-Hungarian aggression, sparked calls for the incorporation of ‘unredeemed lands’ or Irredenta into the Kingdom of Italy. Irredenta refers to lands which Italian nationalists believed historically to be a part of a ‘greater Italy’, including lands with large Italian populations such as the Dalmatian coast and Malta, as well as ‘lost’ territories, such as South Tyrol. Italian claims over the region were exploited by the Entente powers during the First World War, when the land was promised to Rome as part of the Treaty of London, should the Italians switch allegiance in the conflict. Initially the transition was largely inconsequential, however this would change as fascism grew in Italy.

In April 1921, as part of the rising militancy in Italian nationalism, a German-cultural parade held in the regions capital, Bozen, was attacked by hundreds of armed fascists. A local teacher was shot dead during the attacks, and while the Italian Prime Minister ordered arrests, the increasingly powerful Benito Mussolini threatened to intervene on behalf of the fascists should such an order be carried out. This precipitated South Tyrol’s Italianisation, manifest in the banning of the use of German in public office, the mass closure of German schools and the encouragement of ethnic Italian immigration. Moreover, fascism began to grow as an ideology amongst native Tyrolians, who had their allegiances blurred by the increasing co-operation between Hitler’s National Socialist government (governors of Austria subsequent to the 1938 Anschluss) and Mussolini’s fascist regime. Hitler, despite justifying his invasion of Czechoslovakia as an effort to regain territories populated by ethnic German communities, displayed no particular desire for South Tyrol. Thus came the South-Tyrol Option Agreement, which encouraged Tyrolian emigration into Germany or an acceptance of the Italianisation of South Tyrol. While many Tyrolians left their homeland, the fall of Nazism precipitated the return of most.

South Tyrol
South Tyrol’s seen nestled within The Alps, sandwiched between Austria and Italy. (Google Earth)

While the end of the Second World War saw the solidification of many western European borders, the post-war settlement for Tyrol has harboured grievances which have flared up routinely ever since. The Gruber-De Gasperi Agreement saw South Tyrol remain part of Italy but with greater autonomy within the Trentino-Tyrol region. The combination of Tyrol with Trentino rendered the region an Italian majority and was seen by many as an attempt to dilute the influence of ethnic Germans within Italian politics. Moreover, government endorsed Italian migration into the area saw the ethnic German population fall from ninety percent to sixty percent between 1880 and 1960.  This caused growing resentment, and throughout the 1960s a violent terrorist organisation known as the Committee for the Liberation of South Tyrol attacked Italian monuments, infrastructure and officials. Under both internal and external Austrian pressure, a second agreement was made. The agreement stipulated greater autonomy for South-Tyrol, as well as the referral of disputes in the region to The Hague. This, combined with the freedom of movement made possible by the European Union, as well as the declaration of a wider Tyrol ‘Euroregion’, saw a sharp decline in Tyrolian separatism.

The Südtirolfräge, or South Tyrol question, has been awoken in recent months by the rise of the far-right Freedom Party within Austria. The Freedom Party, who form part of the coalition government, strongly support the Tyrolian secessionist movement and unification with Austria. This has compelled Sebastian Kurz to offer some residents of the region Austrian citizenship. The decision has been praised and condemned along the same lines by opposing secessionists and Italian nationalists, who believe the door has been opened for an independence referendum. Italians see citizenship as an attempt to strengthen Austrian claims over South Tyrol and a delegitimising of their own rule. As nationalism rises within Austria, and secessionism gathers momentum in Tyrol, it seems likely that the century-old South Tyrol question will need to be answered once again in the coming years. Polls tend to indicate that a majority of ethnic Germans in South-Tyrol support secession. When the Italian and Ladin population are included, polls tend to fall short of fifty percent. The Austrian far-right are likely to stoke this simmering ethnic division, supported by the secessionist political movements, including the Freedom Party-aligned Die Freiheitlichen. After their much-maligned ambivalence towards Madrid’s brutal suppression of the push for Catalan independence, Tyrol may be the next opportunity for the European Union to prove their aptitude in dealing with the ever-increasing secessionism within the bloc.


SOURCES

www.euronews.com/2017/12/19/dual-nationality-is-just-the-beginning-says-south-tyrol-independence-campaigner

www.theguardian.com/education/2014/may/30/south-tyrol-live-in-italy-feel-austrian

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/12/18/austrias-new-government-stokes-secessionist-row-northern-italy/

www.corriere.it/english/18_gennaio_25/anti-semitic-statue-south-tyrol-refuses-to-be-budged-7909f980-01e5-11e8-9ff2-341a2fe0297c.shtml

Photos:

Cover Image – www.gegenargument.at

Google Earth

Frontline Gibraltar: The Evacuation of the Rock

Gibraltar is a thriving British Overseas Territory, situated at the gateway to the Mediterranean. The local population are a multicultural blend of Maltese, British, Moroccan, Genoese, Jewish and Spanish cultures, and speak a distinctive dialect known as Llanito. A successful democracy, Gibraltarians enjoy some of the lowest unemployment figures in the world, with infrastructure supported by bunkering and an booming online gambling industry. Students study at universities, primarily within the UK, for free, with much of their living expenses subsidised by the local government. An extensive government housing programme means very few Gibraltarians are homeless. This acute social awareness within Gibraltarian politics and democracy has not evolved as organically throughout the peninsula’s extensive history as it might be assumed. The importance of individual and community rights within Gibraltarian culture can be traced directly to the Second World War, when the territory was almost entirely depopulated by the British to make way for military fortification. The experiences of the evacuated population, who were ferried between three continents throughout the conflict, form the bedrock of modern Gibraltarian culture and politics.

Quick Facts Gibraltar

Having been invaded by the Moors in the Fourteenth Century, surrendered to the British in 1704, and besieged by the Spanish and French in 1782, Gibraltar is no stranger to military conflict. In all of these instances the civilian population endured, with the siege of 1782 on record as the longest in British military history. Gibraltarians were relatively unaffected during the First World War, but the all-encompassing nature of the Second World War did not overlook La Roca. The involvement of Fascist Italy in the conflict meant that the Mediterranean, and control of it, was a key aspect of British strategic policy. This was exacerbated following the Italian invasion of British territory in North Africa. The need for a military staging post in the area led to a declaration by the British in June 1940, that all women, children and elderly of Gibraltar were to be evacuated to French Morocco. The British assessed that the presence of a civilian population would impede the productivity of the base, which was to be expanded for use by the RAF and Royal Navy. Therefore, without significant deliberation, 13,500 Gibraltarians were escorted onto boats away from their homeland.

The situation in Morocco soon became untenable. The capitulation of France, following which French territories in North Africa were governed by the Nazi-collaborating Vichy regime, saw the evacuated Gibraltarians living in enemy territory. This situation turned to hostility following an often documented incident at Mers-el-Kebir, where the British sunk the French Fleet to prevent its use by the Axis powers. The evacuees were forced out of Casablanca as a result, and were herded by rifle-wielding French soldiers onto British ships not equipped with provisions for a large civilian population. Return to Gibraltar was impossible as fortification of the territory was in full swing; the Gibraltar Defence Force were formed, an airfield constructed, and the Rock of Gibraltar itself extensively fortified with miles of tunnels, hospitals, power stations, and barracks built inside. A return of the civilian population would risk the compromising of this extensive strategic development.

As such, despite protests from the fatigued evacuees, the transports navigated the Atlantic war-zone to Britain. Had the transports been attacked, one British Admiral claimed it would have been the worst maritime disaster in history. Most evacuated Gibraltarians remained in London throughout the war, where they would endure the worst of The Blitz within houses rendered empty by occupants who themselves had fled to safer locations in the British countryside. Luckier were those sent to Madeira, who enjoyed a relatively peaceful war. Many more were sent to Jamaica, where they inhabited a camp now comprising part of the University of the West Indies. Exposure to the English language and the western world would profoundly impact the evacuees. Pre-war, the Spanish language was used in education, and also within the most popular newspaper of the day ‘El Capense’. Western exposure, as well as participation in Britain’s war, led to the distinct anglicisation of Gibraltarian culture visible today.

Gib Searchlights
The Rock of Gibraltar, lit by British searchlights during WWII

The success of the 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa, which Gibraltar had been strategically vital in, negated any realistic possibility of invasion or attack at the territory. This prompted calls from evacuees and those who remained in Gibraltar for repatriation. The civilian population was still regarded as a potential nuisance by the British. Gibraltar retained its strategic importance, and Britain saw its dominance of Mediterranean commerce and the associated Suez Canal zone as a lynch-pin in its post-war cling to great power status. Moreover, many homes had been demolished to facilitate militarisation, and an extensive homelessness crisis was feared should the evacuees return too soon. As such, the return was delayed. Many were moved to camps outside of Belfast, within which conditions were said to be appalling. Over 6,000 evacuees remained within camps such as these by the war’s end, with the last Gibraltarian returning home in 1951.

This denial of basic human rights and exodus from their families and homeland led to a heightening of the Gibraltarian social consciousness. Along this vein, the Association for Advancement of Civil Rights was established by Joshua Hassan and Albert Risso. The AACR called for improved working conditions, access to healthcare, and improved working conditions under the slogan ‘with Britain, not under Britain’. It is no coincidence that the rise to prominence of the AACR coincided with the rise of Attlee’s Labour Party in Britain, who were elected on a manifesto broadly comparable to that proposed for Gibraltar. Gibraltarians returning from London had been exposed to the grievances of the British working class and could see these issues reflected within their own society. These demands continue to form the basis of modern Gibraltarian politics, as access to free education, healthcare, and government housing dominating the demands of the territory’s inhabitants. This focus on Gibraltarian rights forms one of two key components of Gibraltarian culture, alongside the commitment to partnership with Britain. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 2002, when 98% of voters rejected the principle of share sovereignty with Spain. These two key aspects of Gibraltarian culture were undoubtedly shaped by the experiences of those evacuated from their homes during the Second World War.

J G Middleton and B Bagu


SOURCES:

  • Constantine, S., Community and Identity: The Making of Modern Gibraltar Since 1704

     

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    Finlayson, T.J., Gibraltar and the Spanish Shadow

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    Finlayson, T.J., The Fortress Came First: The Story of the Civilian Population of Gibraltar during the Second World War

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    Gingell, J., ed Beiso, D, We Thank God and England

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    Jackson, W.G.F., and Cantos, F.J., From Fortress to Democracy: The Political Biography of Sir Joshua Hassan

  • Photos; Cover Photo: www.gbc.gi/news/75th-anniversary-wwii-evacuation-be-commemorated-next-month; The Rock Image: WikiCommons