Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Brexit referendum is not

binding on Westminster. Let's take a look?
In the UK there is no compulsion to attend the ballot box. That means only 71% of the population voted. (It's still a lot higher than the US attendance at the ballot box.) In Downunder the percentage is much higher because there is compulsory attendance at the ballot box. (It is NOT compulsory voting because nobody can compel you to mark the ballot paper.)
I am now trying to find some official statistics on who voted in the referendum because I think they may be interesting. There is evidence to suggest that, of the young people who voted, three out of four voted to Remain. But how many young people voted? Older people are being blamed for Brexit but is that the entire story? Perhaps it is time to turn some attention to those who didn't vote, wouldn't vote, or couldn't vote?
And, as I pointed out, the referendum result is not binding on Westminster. It might seem too late now but is it really? There are some interesting things going on. The rest of the EU seems to be anxious to be rid of the UK but is it really? As someone pointed out to me in a tweet this might be more about saving the EU from further disintegration. A certain Dutch politician is already calling for "Nexit" and a French politician wouldn't mind testing "Frexit". 
Remember how close they came to "Grexit" in Greece too. 
I think it suggests two things. The first is that Germany's Angela Merkel is worried about her own job. Having "lost" the UK she desperately needs to keep the rest of the EU together. I suspect France's Hollande (and Valls) feel the same way - and that Le Pen sees it as green light to try again. Similar situations exist in other countries but these two are the most powerful.
The second thing however is even more serious, much more serious. The vote has told the EU that there is something wrong with the EU itself. It isn't working as it was intended to work. Too much control has been ceded to a central authority but it isn't achieving anything. The EU is bogged down in a mass of rules and regulations. Many colleagues in Europe have complained to me about these. I have complained too. Far from streamlining procedures I have found myself filling out forms for a local authority, the country, the EU, another country and another local authority. I sometimes need to do that even though I am not being paid and won't have anything to do with the project beyond providing some communication assistance. If the EU worked as it should then surely I should only be filling out one set of forms at that end? Of course it won't work like that. Countries don't want to give up their powers. They want the advantages while still retaining control. It's that word "sovereignty" which counts for most people.
Referenda are not binding on Westminster. The results are there for parliament to consider. They could be used as a tool but it seems that, faced with a knife, politicians of all persuasions are simply giving in. I know one of my friends in Scotland has said that to ignore the results would not be democratic but there are questions of responsibility here.  
What I would really like to know  though is an answer to these questions. What percentage of people aged 24 and under voted? What percentage of people aged 31 and under  voted? If they had all voted could they have made a difference? It was their future they were, and could have been, voting on. 

Saturday, 25 June 2016

So why did Brexit

win over Remain?
I have been pondering this. I had thought the result would be close but I thought and hoped it might be the other way around. Were there just too many people who thought, "It won't happen. I needn't bother to vote" - or what?
Seriously, I think there might be a number of reasons. One of them perhaps is that Britain was not a member of the European Union from the beginning. It didn't get invited. They were told "you aren't really European". Later, when Europe saw some economic advantages, they were permitted to join. It's a bit like the footballer who is not on the team to begin with but who gets brought on when an advantage is seen in having that player there but who is still not given due credit for the contribution they make. "You're not really part of the team. We only want you for the skills you have." Is that the view some people hold? Do (too many) people resent that?
Did a lot of people believe that Britain was putting more into the EU than it was getting out of it? It seemed to be one of the points Brexiters were making.
And then there is the issue of  the sort of country Britain is perceived to have come. Like this one it is perceived to be full of migrants - and yes, a lot of people are migrants. Britain has always been full of migrants. My far distant ancestors were Norse. They ended up in the far north of Scotland too far back for the records to go but evidenced by my family and clan name.
The problem is that many people see more recent migrants as having changed the country in ways they are not comfortable with. At least some of these people are perfectly ordinary, sensible people. They aren't racists or bigots. What bothers many of them is the perception that they have invited these migrants to enter their "home" and now find that, having accepted the invitation, the guests expect to be entertained on their own terms rather than those of their hosts. They are seen as wanting their own room rather than mixing with the members of the household. They are seen as wanting to do things their way be it in dress, food, culture, religion, education, values, beliefs or even the law.
For all we claim to be a "multi cultural" society the same problem exists here. I suspect it exists wherever there are migrants, especially large numbers of migrants. I know large numbers of migrants. They take widely differing views on whether things like their language, culture and traditions should be preserved. Perhaps the question being asked however is the wrong one. It isn't "should" but "why" and then "how" these things should be preserved. If the end result is separation and isolation or it is done from a desire to dominate or control then there will be suspicion and resentment.
Is that what caused Brexit?
I know the blame is being laid at the feet of the likes of David Cameron. Some are saying he shouldn't have held a referendum at all. Some are saying he  should have ignored the disquiet. Others are saying he is too "privileged" to know what ordinary people are thinking. It is probably easy to blame Cameron if you don't vote Tory - just as we would blame our Prime Minister for a similar outcome.
The reality however is that British Labour supported Remain too. So did many other high profile people. They worked together on this but it still didn't succeed. The "ordinary" voters sent their leaders a powerful message. It was a message that needs to be heeded.
But the Brexit vote isn't the end of the road by any means. Yes there was a major financial reaction yesterday because investors panicked. There was actually no need to panic because, for now, very little changes. Very little may change in the future. It is even possible that Brexit might not occur - although some would say that is unlikely.
What the Brexit vote has done is challenge the status quo. It may well presage the break up of the European Union. Those who have the capacity to do something about this now need to ask "why" people voted the way they did. The answers may be uncomfortable but they need to be addressed - here as well as there.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Scientific research cannot be done

without access to the proper facilities.
My doctor nephew is doing some research at present. Like any intelligent young doctor he knows that he needs to know more. If the young doctor plans to "specialise" then research is essential.
The same is true in other areas. There was a time when it was considered that simply going to university and getting a first degree was enough to get a good job - sometimes a very good job. People rose to the very top with just that.
Now that is just the first step on the ladder. You go from a "Bachelor" degree to a "Master" degree to a "Doctor". And even that is not enough in the world of academia because there are always "post-doctoral studies". 
I have not done "post-doctoral studies" - well, not formally at university. I have done plenty of study. It's been essential. 
But I don't work in science. I work in psychology, linguistics and communication. It's simple stuff compared with the sort of thing my nephew is doing. He spends his days in a darkened lab staring down a microscope and counting cells. He has to do the same thing over and over again with just the smallest of variations. It is not "exciting". 
I remember one of my fellow students in London complaining to one of our lecturers that they had thought research would be "exciting". No, it isn't. Most of the time it is, quite frankly, boring. It just has to be done. The outcome might be exciting or lead to something exciting but the process is not exciting. 
And it gets worse when you don't have the proper facilities to do it. My nephew is working in difficult conditions now. They are about to get worse. The new facilities they are supposed to move into are actually smaller than those they now work in. His supervising professor has tried to explain that there isn't sufficient space to do what they are now doing let alone expand their work. He has been saying this since the design of the new building was first made known. The planners and architects didn't listen. Why?
There's no money either. When he is not at the lab my nephew works in hospitals - in order to be able to eat. Soon though he also has to do an extended stint to replace a Registrar going on leave and, due to the peculiarities of the system, he won't get paid for doing it - you see at the beginning of the year he was supposed to get a research grant to cover his expenses but it hasn't "come through" yet. 
I wonder about all this. He isn't the only young doctor in this position. I know that. He knows that.
I also know that when I need to go and see a doctor I expect them to be well trained and very competent. Isn't it time we at least paid them so they can do their job?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

We go to the polls

on July 2nd - to elect a new federal parliament. The polls are mixed  but, for the most part, indicate a "tight" race. Neither side has yet delivered a decisive blow - and perhaps they won't. There is talk of a "hung parliament" and about excessive power resting with smaller parties who are able to promise the earth (and beyond) knowing that they will never have to deliver it.
Both the major parties are lying in the lead up to the election. They are saying things they know are not true. They are also making promises they can't keep and don't intend to even try and keep. They are promising to spend money that don't have.
Yes, it is standard political game playing. I know that. Most people know. We will make our decisions based on any number of factors. I've done my homework. I'll try and make an informed decision and implement it on polling day. The Senior Cat will do the same. He is, even at 93, still taking an intelligent interest in what people are saying, doing, and demanding.
But, I still have a problem with all this. As I mentioned a short time ago it is my responsibility to ensure that some people with disabilities know how to fill in their ballot papers. Ballot papers for the Senate must now be filled in differently from before. This has confused many people. The advertising by the Australian Electoral Commission has confused them too - or is simply not reaching them. It isn't what they have been told to do for years.
We have given these people a vote. They have the right to a vote. And it has to be their vote. It can't be the vote of the people who care for them.
"What are they promising Cat?" one person asked me. He's smart enough in his own way. His reading skills are limited but he knows about differences and choice and party promises. 
I have explained. I know which way he voted last time because he asked me to go with him. It was, as far as it could be, an informed decision for him. He probably put more thought into it than many people who always vote for a particular political party without giving it any thought at all. 
"I don't understand Cat," someone else told me, "Can't I just put it there like always?" 
I explain again...and again. 
I have now printed off a list which shows the order the candidates appear on the ballot paper. It seems to me that this will be the easiest way to help those who can fill in their own ballot papers but still need some help. We can sit there with the list. They can decide and write the numbers next to their choice of candidates. They can take that list with them when they vote and simply copy the numbers into the relevant squares on the ballot paper. 
I mentioned this to the Senior Cat. 
       "I was going to do the same thing," he told me. 
Perhaps the AEC should have been suggesting this to everyone.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Election posters

or,  in Upover, referendum posters are all over the place. 
Someone mentioned that their referendum poster had been torn down. Presumably the vandal disagreed with the sentiment on it. 
The election date here had not even been officially announced when the first "corflutes" started to appear. 
They are called corflutes because of the material they are made from. They aren't indestructible but they are weatherproof. If they don't get vandalised then they are generally good for at least two election cycles. They are, as intended, eye-catching.
In my state in Downunder most of them get attached to "Stobie" poles. (The concrete and metal poles which carry the power lines across most suburbs.) Occasionally they appear on fences or other prominent places. Two or three can appear together - from different political parties.
Do they do any good? I don't know. I know my old federal MP quite well. I knew him before he entered politics. I have, quite by chance, met the candidate for his party. I have seen the "independent" candidate. I have  not seen or met the other candidates. I doubt I will.
But I won't go around defacing their election posters. I don't agree with the policies all parties are espousing but they have the right to state them. They have a right to be seen and to be heard. I have the right to be informed. I have the right to make up my own mind.  
Defacing an election poster is an act of violence. It may be seen as a "minor" thing but it is still an act of violence - against everyone else. 
In a democracy we have the right to know who the people asking to be allowed to represent us are - and what they stand for. If you deface an election poster then I will think less of you than the face on the poster.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Please do your paper work

because I need to do mine!
A friend in the UK wrote yesterday and asked if I could find some information for him. His aunt died recently. He is the executor of her will and he needs information from a bank here. 
He sent all the necessary paper work and has since contacted the bank on two more occasions. There has been no response.  
I sent the information he asked for as soon as I could get it.
I hate paperwork. I loathe filling out forms. I detest dealing with finances. I would make a totally lousy treasurer for anyone else. 
Recently though I have had to do the banking for the Senior Cat. He hasn't been able to get to the bank because he has not, until recently, been allowed to ride his gopher - the only way he can get to the bank unless someone takes him in a car.  
I have an Enduring Power of Attorney and also a bank Authority to Act. The Senior Cat has issued purrs of instruction and I have duly obliged. I have made sure that all the usual receipts and information are available. As I usually see one of two people in the bank he uses this is not difficult. They know him - and me. The paperwork is up to date.
But I wonder what would happen if I was on the other side of the world and there was no relative left here? Would the bank be so careful, so compliant?
I  suspect not. I suspect the answer would be a shrug and a "we'll get around to that later". They would take the attitude that the face-to-face customers matter more. They would let the rest pile up.
I say this because it is true of all sorts of things. In my job I do a lot of paperwork. Some of it is repetitious - so much so that I have several forms stored in the computer and already filled out apart  from some details as to whom I am doing the particular task for this time. There are (too many) times when I come across something new and (far too many) times when people ask me for information they do not need.
I was helping to design a form recently. Another person on the team said something to the effect of "I suppose we have to start with all the usual things..."  and two more of us said, "Hold it right there. This needs to be as simple as possible."
So we haven't asked for age or sex or a street address or a number of other things. They don't matter in the context of this form. We know that information is already held by the organisation. We have a contact for them - and an alternative contact. We know which languages they are able to work in and the level of assistance they need in others. There are one or two other pieces of information vital for the work they will be doing. That is all we asked for. It is all we needed.  
Most people returned their paperwork on time. Someone else still had to chase a few people. There were comments though - comments that the form was "nice and short" and "that only took a couple of minutes". 
It made me think yet again that we often ask for information we don't need, don't and won't use. We ask for it because we have always asked for it. It's assumed that we need it.
I wonder what information is asked for  by the bank my friend is dealing with. Are they suffocating under an overload of unnecessary information? Is that why they haven't responded? 
Or has someone just thought, "I'll get around to that sometime..."?

Monday, 20 June 2016

Brexit, exit, polls, politics

and more. Yes, I am watching.
My cousin in London tells me he thinks Remain will win - but that the result will be close. A friend in the UK has just posed the interesting question of "what would happen if the result came out exactly 50-50?" I am assuming he means an exactly even number of  votes for and against. Hmmm....
It would be better for everyone if there was a decisive vote - one way or the other. 
Of course even that doesn't ensure that those on the losing side won't try again. Remember that vote we had about Downunder becoming a republic? A majority of people in every state and territory voted against the proposal. Those who want a republic are still pushing the issue. Their argument was that it was the way the question was asked, the proposal which was put, that people really did want a republic it was just that.... They are simply unwilling to accept the result.
In this state we have a government that was formed on a minority of the votes. It was just that they managed to get a majority of the seats - and then shore up their support with the help of people who perhaps should have shown more respect for democracy over personal power.
I have my doubts about the EU as an effective body. Those doubts are perhaps similar to my doubts about the UN - a body I know perhaps too much about.  Both need reform - major reform.
Both started out with good intentions perhaps but they are simply too diverse. Some countries are simply more powerful than others. It means that, inevitably, they will dictate - at least to some degree. They will not want to give up the power they have in favour of a reformed organisation that may actually achieve more of the goals and objectives in the original plan. Whichever way the Brexit vote goes things will not be the same again.
And here Downunder we are perhaps moving in a similar direction. We could have a hung parliament. The current Prime Minister holds views more in keeping with the Opposition - and is much less likely to listen to the views of his party than previous Prime Ministers of either persuasion. He may win the election but it may not be a win for democracy if he is able to impose his views against those of his party. 
That question of "what happens if..." is interesting because it doesn't need to be an even vote for the minority to succeed in imposing their point of view.