Today Marks the Dawn of a New Britain

Today after many (literal) trials and tribulations, the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on Brexit. In the next two years, we will get more of a glimpse into what Brexit will look like, but here is a quick take on what Brexit should actually mean for Britain.The first (chronologically) and easiest thing for the Prime Minister to achieve in the negotiations is a guarantee that British citizens living and working in the EU27 will be allowed to remain, and that EU citizens living and working in the UK should be guaranteed the same. This is an important first step to securing peace of mind for the thousands of citizens in both areas who are deeply concerned about their right to stay in the country they now call home. Both sides seem to be committed to this principle as an early goal for negotiations, and so it should be achieved without too much strain.

Another important issue for the Prime Minister is to ensure that we created a globalist, outward-looking Britain, which matches both the desire of Leavers, and of the Remainers who support free trade and other liberal values. We should be aiming for free trade with the European Union after Brexit, but we must ensure that we are not tied down by the Customs Union. The regressive isolationism of tariffs on non-EU states has prevented Britain from harnessing the power and growth of emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, as well as inhibiting our ability to conduct trade with our traditional allies: particularly Canada, Australia and the United States.

Securing global free trade deals is an important aim of Brexit, and was something heavily pushed for by Vote Leave and mandated by the 17m people who voted for it. A global, free trading Britain is the future for this country, and becoming a beacon for trade can only bode well for our economy. Particular focus once trade restrictions with non-EU nations have been lifted should be securing deals with our traditional Commonwealth allies and other countries where there are fewer non-tariff barriers to entry, as well as ensure that the economies of tomorrow are included in any such deals.

With a globalist Britain in mind, we should also be looking to retain our cooperation on initiatives on important global issues, such as security and climate change. Britain should be a world leader in such areas and should retain its links with European nations to continue working to solve them – as was often repeated in the campaign: we are not leaving Europe, nor are we saying that we no longer wish to be friends and allies, we are simply leaving a political union. Cooperation within Europe should continue, and Britain should use the opportunity to build a new network of allies across the world to continue to tackle important issues.

Another goal of the negotiations should be an end to the automatic free movement of labour. Retaining free movement for tourism and for other leisure pursuits should be encouraged, but we must put an end to a discriminatory immigration system which weighs a person’s nationality more than a person’s personality. Our immigration system should be based on the person and not the passport that they hold, and everyone wishing to come and live in the UK should undergo the same process. If we accept that there must be some upper limit on immigration (whatever number that may be), then a system of free movement of people gives an unfair advantage to people from 27 nations over those from 169 – that is not just, not right, and not fair, and it must end.

Brexit also offers us a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. It removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead it brings back important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased powers for the UK Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level fall down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect you get made by a local government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by local representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It may also bring an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy.

Finally, it seems a given, but we should also use the opportunity to strengthen our Union, and not give in to those who seek to divide it. We share a common history and a common destiny. We share a common language and a common culture. This isn’t an English and Welsh Brexit, it is a red, white and blue Brexit, and it should work for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London and Cornwall.

Together, we take our first steps into a bright future.

University Without Freedom of Speech is No University at All

Irony (noun): banning a Student Conservative Society from using its social media accounts because it criticised your free speech record. Lincoln Students’ Union recently decided that the solution to criticism of its attitude to free speech was to take away the right to free speech of the people who criticised them. This sort of action is a microcosm of the attitude to free speech taken by too many SU’s up and down the country, and is a telling sign of the culture prevalent within the NUS and other bodies that view cracking down on views they don’t agree with as an acceptable measure to take. There is absolutely no point to university if students don’t get exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, and ultimately censorship achieves very little.

Firstly, we have to deal with the most common argument in favour of no-platforming: the right to free speech doesn’t equal the right to a platform. This argument is usually applied incorrectly, because it is used to excuse third party agents intervening to prevent speeches in cases where an organisation has offered a speaker a platform, and they have accepted it. This is clearly unacceptable: individual organisations have the right of offer someone a platform – if you disagree with them saying things and choose to take that platform away, that is inhibiting their freedom of speech. Indeed, the whole ‘right to a platform’ argument seems weak; if I put tape over your mouth, I’m not inhibiting your freedom of speech, merely what platform you can speak on. Yet that would be a very disingenuous argument. If your no-platforming involves simply refusing to invite people to speak, then that isn’t no-platforming and it isn’t a problem – if your no-platforming involves removing a platform that someone has been offered, then that is a freedom of speech issue.

Potential arguments in favour of inhibiting freedom of speech seem to often revolve around not giving extreme speakers publicity. This is obviously a logical fallacy, because no-platforming produces far more news stories than allowing people to speak. Likewise, there is a somewhat insulting notion that allowing extreme speakers to speak might encourage people to have extreme views. Let’s settle this once and for all: it is not letting people say extreme things that leads to extremism, it is not letting them say things. Extremists thrive on ‘us vs them’ scenarios, because they polarise debate and make people pick sides. When people have to pick sides you find moderates who believe that freedom of speech is sacrosanct, defending the rights of those like Milo Yiannopoulos alongside people who are much more extreme, and that is far more likely to cause a perpetuation of extremist values than simply letting a speaker speak. Furthermore, you give ammunition and credence to extremists’ views by not letting them speak; in essence, you inadvertently support them by opposing them in this way.

So, why is free speech ultimately good? Well, people learn far more about someone’s arguments by listening to them than by ignoring them. If you want to oppose a narrative, then exposing yourself to their points and understanding their nuances means that you’ll be better able to shape your arguments to prove them wrong. Furthermore, I find it much more difficult to beat someone in a debate if you never invite them to take part. We’ve been talking about extreme viewpoints, but a lot of the time Unions seem to simply oppose views they disagree with (see anything the NUS has done in the last two or three years). This is inherently illogical: telling someone they cannot express their views won’t change their mind, and if you want someone to agree with you, then finding out how they oppose your ideas is a good start in coming up with arguments they will agree with.

Ultimately you need a breadth of ideas on a university campus to actually make progress. If no one ever challenges your worldview, then you’ll never see the need to improve it. If you never hear a dissenting opinion, then you’ll never know how to challenge it. Having a number of different and nuanced political positions means that there will be better policy outcomes, more scope for engagement in politics, and generally more cross-spectrum collaboration on things that you agree on. At Southampton, we benefit hugely from having a variety of dissenting viewpoints and opinions, with worthwhile debates, discussion and campaigning on issues.

Alex Hovden, the Union Southampton President, explained: ‘As a Union, we have a responsibility to represent every student’s viewpoint, regardless of political leaning and or affiliation. The reality is that a wide scope of opinions is part of what makes the student body diverse, which on one hand makes my job harder, but on the other hand it enables me to challenge the University and other relevant decision makers from a wide variety of perspectives, which can only be a good thing. I’d encourage students to continue discussing your ideas and opinions, and keep challenging me and the other full time officers to represent you as effectively as possible.’

The whole purpose of university is to be a place to air and challenge views, and question, challenge, and criticise prevailing elites. If a Union decides that it doesn’t want to be challenged, then it undermines the nature of university. Lincoln SU is just one example: they cited a criticism of their free speech record as a means of bringing their organisation into disrepute, but by seeking to ban, rather than accept the criticism; by seeking to restrict, rather than debate, they brought their institution into more disrepute than any criticism possibly could have.

Finally, the issue of offence is a common excuse for censorship. Here’s the thing: not liking something doesn’t give you the right to stop it. If you are seriously offended by the views of a speaker, don’t go to the event they are at. If we prevent everything that might conceivably cause someone offence, we’ll end up preventing everything. Instead of teaching young people ways to prevent offence, why not come up with strategies to help them deal with it? It’s not nice, but offence is a part of life, and university seems like a good place to learn how to respond to it. In all honesty, if you are offended by something, that’s probably a good thing. Being offended is a mobilising force that gives you the drive and determination to change things and fight for what you believe in.

Very little gets changed when everyone is happy, it takes someone being offended to really drive them to fight for their beliefs. I am offended by censorship and restrictions on free speech, which is why I oppose such measures with every fibre of my being. To those Unions around the country who would seek to follow the Lincoln approach and oppose freedom of speech, those of us who support it say to you: we find your opposition to free speech offensive, and by your own logic that mandates you to ban it.

Lessons from the Dutch General Election

The far right Party for Freedom came second in last week’s Dutch general election, but lessons should be taken from their last minute collapse.

The often euphoric reaction from moderates to a far right political party with one member and no government funding coming a distant second in an election in a Benelux country – just over ten years after the aforementioned party was founded – seems out-of-place. There are now resilient far right movements in many European nations, and the fact that one of them has now become the second largest party isn’t something to celebrate – even if there was a chance they might have become the largest. The rise of the PVV is a sign that mainstream parties need to sit up and take notice of the far right, and ask themselves why these movements are gaining so much traction.

Article continued on Leonards Review.

The Scotland Question: Theresa May’s Four Options

The announcement that Nicola Sturgeon thinks a generation lasts five years was an unsurprising one, and it leaves the UK in an interesting position. With it seeming inevitable that the SNP minority government will be able to force their referendum demand through Holyrood, here’s a look at the four options that faced Theresa May yesterday at Westminster, before she ultimately decided to delay until at least 2020.

1) Don’t allow Scotland to have another referendum.

The surest way to guarantee that Scotland doesn’t vote for independence would, on the face of it, seem to be simply saying no to letting them vote. Sturgeon’s argument for a second ballot seems weak – coming 907 days after Scotland last voted, it doesn’t seem particularly justified to say that Scotland hasn’t been given the choice on independence – and the opinion polls have shown opposition to both independence and a second ballot remains stronger than support for them, meaning that the political implications behind rejecting Sturgeon’s proposal seem to have a net positive. Furthermore, it is certainly an achievable policy: three-line whipping the Conservative and Unionist Party’s MPs would produce a Westminster majority capable of vetoing the referendum.

However, the long term implications of preventing a vote could be significant. Blocking the SNP would incense nationalists and might lend some credence to their traditional ‘Westminster aren’t listening to us’ rhetoric. If the SNP become more determined and are given ammunition, then a Holyrood majority in 2021 seems likely, and by then SNP rhetoric will have had time to convince swing voters.

Verdict: Potentially not desirable, as it energises the SNP’s ranks and gives legitimacy to their arguments, but it would solidify the Union in the short term.

2) Call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold a referendum in autumn 2017.

Support for independence and for a second referendum is low, meaning that the likelihood of a referendum victory for the Union is significantly higher if we hold the ballot sooner. If Theresa May had decided to call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold the vote early it would catch the SNP off guard and wouldn’t give them the time required to convince voters around to their cause. This is particularly the case given the difficulties the SNP have had making clear what exactly an independent Scotland would look like.

Furthermore, an early referendum has some major benefits to the UK. It would reduce the effect that the threat of Scottish independence has on Brexit negotiations and a vote to remain in the Union would strength the PM’s hand immensely. Moreover, it would contain uncertainty and prevent a more significant period of uncertainty impacting on the economy between now and 2019. Lastly, a defeat to a Unionist campaign led by Ruth Davidson would increase pressure on Nicola Sturgeon and potentially topple the SNP minority government, leading to a Holyrood election between a delegitimised SNP and a resurgent Tory Party, and the potential for a much more significant hung parliament in Scotland.

Verdict: Desirable, victory seems much more likely sooner, but may impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

3) The Sturgeon option: referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

This is a terrible plan.

To elaborate slightly more, Nicola Sturgeon has played a very clever game with this particular option. Any move to hold the referendum at a different time will strength Sturgeon’s argument to an extent, as it will be seen as Westminster dictating Scottish policy, but in this case it is a much more desirable option than any other. If it is held at the end of the Brexit process then there are a whole manner of negative implications for the UK – the threat of Scottish independence if the UK gets a bad deal will significantly strengthen the EU’s hand, as it inserts an increased significance into Theresa May’s ability to threaten to walk away without a deal. The EU will know this, and if ever there was a bargaining chip that the UK cannot afford to allow the EU to hold, it is one as significant as secession.

It would also raise a further dilemma: failing to provide detailed information on the nature of the Brexit deal will increase uncertainty around Brexit and may push swing voters towards Scottish independence; on the other hand, providing detailed information would severely reduce the timeframe that the UK government has to complete a complex series of negotiations, and would involve the deal being finalised before the referendum, reducing the ability of the UK to secure a good deal.

Finally, it gives Sturgeon over a year to whip up nationalist sentiments and change the course of current polling. It provides a longer period of time for economic fluctuations to make the result more uncertain. It also increases general uncertainty and flattens markets at a time when we need uncertainty to be as minimised as possible.

Verdict: Political suicide.

4) Make Sturgeon wait for a mandate.

Agreeing to hold the referendum in 2021 would seem a logical move from the Prime Minister. Brexit negotiations will be long done by then and the UK will have borne out any uncertainty caused by it and be in a stronger position – additionally, other than option 1, this seems to be the option that would have the least impact upon the aforementioned negotiations. Furthermore, strengthened by a likely general election victory and the probability of some more Tory MPs in Scotland, it will enable the 2021 Holyrood election to be an essential referendum on the referendum – if the Scottish Tories can position themselves as the credible Unionist alternative to the SNP, then we could see a strong showing for them and a decreased mandate for holding the referendum in the first place.

The problems of leaving it until 2021 are largely ‘what if’ scenarios. If Brexit has a larger economic impact than expected, it could decrease the power of the economic pro-Union arguments. If the SNP are able to increase support for an independent Scotland (or simply get their act together), a 2021 referendum might produce a tighter result. But these are largely unpredictable – overall, it seems likely that this will be the option chosen, giving the SNP an opportunity to prove they have a mandate in a Holyrood election, and providing a solution which does not impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

Verdict: A generation seems much more likely to be 7 years long.

Overall

Options 2 and 4 seem to be the most likely to maintain the Union, while allowing Nicola Sturgeon to have her needless ideological pontification. Of the two, option 4 seems more favourable, given that it will have the least impact upon Brexit and the future that Scotland voted to be a part of in 2014. That reflects the decision the Prime Minister seems to have come to – if there is still demand for a referendum in 2020 and beyond, then it seems likely that it will be held in 2021 after the Holyrood elections. With a primary concern being the Brexit negotiations, options 2 and 3 have been ruled out so as to prevent the potential for an independence referendum to cast a shadow over the PM’s hand. Whether the PM ultimately chooses option 1 or option 4 is as yet unclear, but when making her decision this week she seems to have fallen down on the side of the latter.