Rumy Hasan's blog posts

The costs of Ramadan need to be counted



Islam is a demanding religion, requiring a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of believers to fulfil duties of worship. The core duties are known as the “five pillars of Islam”, the most burdensome of which is the fourth pillar, the injunction to fast during daylight hours (whereby no food, drink, smoking or sexual activity is permitted) during the lunar month of Ramadan, that is, 29 or 30 days. This is necessarily a debilitating requirement, whose health and economic impacts can be significant (children, the ill and elderly are exempted).

There is mounting evidence to show that fasting in the month of Ramadan has a negative effect on health which, in turn, can have an adverse impact on productivity and economic output. Naturally, the longer the period of fasting, the greater the effect – this is particularly so when Ramadan falls during the summer months in north European countries, as at present. The duration of the daily fast this year in Britain is about 19 hours.

Research by the Dutch academic Reyn van Ewijk points to an array of long-term health problems resulting from Ramadan fasting. For those women who chose to fast during pregnancy, it may cause considerable negative health effects on the offspring, irrespective of the stage of pregnancy in which Ramadan took place.

Exposure to fasting before birth is associated with a poorer general health. It also increases a person’s chances of developing symptoms that are indicative of serious health problems, such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes and, among older people who were exposed during certain stages of gestation, may lead to anaemia.

Occupational health researchers have highlighted various adverse health consequences from severe dehydration, including headaches, dizziness and nausea.

In the Muslim world, one word encapsulates the economic reality of Ramadan: “slowdown” – meaning that less work is done and more slowly. An article in Arab News in July 2013 suggested that productivity declines by as much as 35% to 50% as a result of shorter working hours and the change in lifestyle during the month so that decisions and vital meetings are postponed until it is over.


In an extensive survey, economists Felipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott show that Ramadan fasting has a significant negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries. A survey by Dinar Standard, the growth strategy firm, estimates that in the Organisation of Islamic Conference countries the working day is reduced on average by two hours during Ramadan (PDF).

If we assume 21 working days in a month, this translates to a loss of 42 working hours. There is no indication that these hours are made up during the rest of the year. If, on average, 1,700 hours are worked during the year, this loss represents a 2.5% reduction in output per year.

Productivity declines not only from the physical strain of fasting but from the disruption to the flow and organisation of work. It is reasonable to assume that decline in productivity would further reduce economic output by at least 3% each year, which represents a significant annual recessionary impact of Ramadan.

It is revealing that OIC countries have never undertaken extensive research to ascertain the precise impact of Ramadan on their economies. What is more surprising is that international organisations, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations Development Programme, have also not carried out this research; perhaps because of its sensitive nature.

It is sometimes argued that rather than Ramadan having a deleterious effect, it actually increases subjective well-being among Muslims. But the use of subjective well-being with respect to authoritarian doctrines, including religions, ought to be treated with caution, especially under autocratic regimes. This is especially true for Muslim-majority countries where apostasy and blasphemy are simply intolerable.

Given this, adherence to the tenets and rituals of the faith is demanded, and shown approval by the family, wider community, and (it is hoped) the almighty. To do otherwise risks bringing shame and dishonour to the family, clan, and society at large. So, it naturally follows that when asked about fulfilling religious duties, the believers deem this to be a gracious cause for improving well-being even if the duty in question – such as month-long fasting – is demonstrably harmful to the person’s health.

Accordingly, the supposed positive subjective well-being effects of Ramadan are a flawed indicator of genuine well-being. Medical science has long made clear that regular intakes of food and drink are a sine qua non for good health and soundness of mind. Given the significant and rising numbers of Muslims living in Britain, it is high time that the issue of the health and economic consequences of Ramadan fasting is given due consideration by national and local governments, businesses and society at large.


First published in The Guardian's Economics Blog on 3rd July 2015

The dangers of mixing politics and religion (letter in The Guardian)



Giles Fraser rightly highlights the president of the Hindu Forum of Britain, Trupti Patel, arguing that only a Conservative government will defend the caste system in the UK but, unsurprisingly, goes wrong in his comparison with imams supporting the disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets.

The principled position is to argue that political parties and local and national governments must refrain from granting privileges on the grounds of religion. Politicians, and indeed the wider public, should be reminded that back in 1936 the leader of the “untouchables” in India, BR Ambedkar, in his 1936 book Annihilation of Caste, thought that “Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors”. In her introduction to the 2014 edition of Ambedkar’s classic work, the Indian writer Arundhati Roy argues that “for a writer to have to use terms like ‘untouchable’, ‘schedule caste’, ‘backward class’, and ‘other backward classes’ to describe fellow human beings is like living in a chamber of horrors”. So legislation that seeks to prevent such typology and attendant discriminatory practices in the UK is absolutely necessary.

Published in The Guardian on 21st May 2015

This is the link to Fraser's article on 16th May 2015:

Feminist critic of Islam (letter to The Independent on Ayaan Hirsi Ali)



Feminist critic of Islam

In his profile of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Rupert Cornwell refers to her and her husband Niall Ferguson as “conservatives with a shared antipathy to soggy liberalism” (11 April). But it is not quite as simple as that.

While it is true that Ferguson is a neocon historian, Hirsi Ali comes from a different perspective. Her first political affiliation was with the Dutch centre-left Labour Party and it was her disillusionment with them that led her to switch to the conservative-liberal Party for Freedom and Democracy before this party also failed her regarding her asylum status.

In her consistent opposition to the conservative, misogynistic aspects of Islam, she is, in fact, a feminist revolutionary. The “soggy liberals” and feminists who should have supported and championed her have, instead, offered apologies or silence for all manner of reactionary, illiberal beliefs and practices emanating from religious-ethnic minorities, especially from Islamists. One egregious example is that of Germaine Greer defending female genital mutilation back in 1999 on the grounds that to outlaw it amounted to “an attack on cultural identity”.

It is hardly surprising then that Hirsi Ali (who was subject to genital mutilation) fled to the US, where she was welcomed with open arms by the American Enterprise Institute.

Rather than Joan of Arc, she is better understood as following in the footsteps of one of the great champions of women's rights, Mary Wollstonecraft, who was brazen in her criticisms of the subordinate position of women in Islam. Alas, though modern feminists warmly embrace Wollstonecraft, on that issue they remain silent.

Accordingly, Hirsi Ali's frustrations and impatience with them and the “soggy liberals” is entirely justified.

Published in The Independent on 15th April 2015


Here is Rupert Cornwall’s profile:

Appearance on BBC1's 'The Big Questions'



I was invited to take part in a debate on "Are we too afraid to talk about race?" on BBC1's The Big Questions on 22nd March 2015. Unfortunately, I could not get my contribution in on the second question on religion:


Integrating Muslims



In his 19th January letter to 1,000 mosque leaders, the UK communities secretary Eric Pickles asks how belief in Islam can be part of British identity – an acknowledgement by the government that there is lack of integration among Britain’s Muslim communities. The immediate response by Muslim leaders and organisations was typical: take umbrage and put up a “do not disturb” sign. But on 1st February the Muslim Council of Britain opened the doors of some mosques to the public as a gesture of goodwill and openness. However, it was no more than tokenism, and does not address the lack of integration. This issue is now of profound importance throughout Europe and many are losing patience with that “do not disturb” attitude of so many Muslim organisations and their demands for separate rights and resources.


One who is impatient is Ahmed Abutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, who aroused much controversy when he bluntly told Muslims on live Dutch television on 13th January: “If you don't like freedom, for heaven's sake pack your bags and leave. If you do not like it here because some humorists you don't like are making a newspaper, may I then say you can f*** off.” Such blunt comments have long been considered beyond the pale in mainstream political circles and in polite society at large. But Abutaleb’s terse view is probably shared by a majority of Europeans. The situation of Muslims in western society is now at the forefront of political thinking and will not go away. On the contrary, unease, disquiet, and tensions are likely to increase.

Whilst addressing Muslim radicalisation is now the highest priority, there are wider, societal, concerns about Muslims in the EU, which are deep-rooted. In France, an opinion poll conducted by IFOP in October 2012 found that 60% of respondents consider the influence and visibility of Islam in France are too high, and that 43% of French believe the presence of a Muslim community in France is a threat to the French identity; only 17% consider this is a source of enrichment.

In Germany (which, after France, has the second largest Muslim population in the EU), since October 2014 there have been regular and substantial anti-Islam marches and rallies (especially in the city of Dresden) organised by a newly formed grassroots movement by the name of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West). What is invariably omitted in media coverage of these protests is that the potential support for such a movement is very strong. For example, a survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation in January 2015 found that 57% of Germans considered Islam “very much” or “somewhat” of a threat and that 61% believe that Islam is “incompatible with the western world”. Similar protests have started in Norway, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Austria.

In the Netherlands, long renowned for its tolerance and liberalism, the anti-Islam PVV (Party for Freedom) led by the controversial Geert Wilders is currently leading in the polls: in November 2014 the party called for the closure of all mosques to “de-Islamise the Netherlands”. Concerns in the Netherlands about Islam have increased sharply over the past decade and a half. For example, an extensive survey conducted by Paul Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn as far back as 1998 – before 9/11 and the war on terror – showed that approximately half the Dutch population thought that “western European and Muslim ways of life are irreconcilable”.

In Britain too, there has been rising unease about Islam. This is evidenced by the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2010 which highlighted the fact that of all the major religions in Britain, only Islam generated an overall negative response. Similarly, a Populus poll in 2011, considered the largest survey into identity and extremism in the UK, found that 52% of respondents agreed with the proposition that “Muslims create problems in the UK” (a far higher percentage than for other religious groups). Indeed, such negative responses are likely to have increased during the intervening years given recent troubling phenomena. These include the Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham in which hardline Islamists were attempting to take over the running of a number of state schools in areas which are almost entirely comprised of Muslim neighbourhoods; the scandal of the “grooming” and child sexual exploitation of white girls by gangs of men from a Pakistani Muslim background in several towns and cities (in Bristol the perpetrators were Somali men); the killing by Islamists of the soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London, in May 2013, and various terror threats that have been thwarted. These all increase negative views on Islam and Muslims.

What is true, despite different policies, is that the outcome has been similar in towns and cities in several European countries with large Muslim populations. Rather than a new respectful, tolerant, all-encompassing and socially cohesive society envisaged by advocates of multiculturalism and multifaithism, with accommodation of separate cultural and religious demands, instead we see segregation, ghettoisation, resentment, alienation, communal stress to the point of hostility, and the leading of what Ted Cantle, author of the seminal report on Oldham riots in 2001, termed “parallel lives”. There is widespread consensus that multiculturalism has failed. Indeed, the reality is that many Muslim communities have become “psychically detached”, with few points of contact and little affinity or identity with mainstream European society.

The task for policymakers, which is now urgent and important, is how to undo the separatism and high levels of psychic detachment, which have reached worrying proportions and are generating considerable unease in all EU countries with significant Muslim populations, and to advocate values that can forge commonalities. Some, such as Ukip leader Nigel Farage have suggested that Europe’s values are based on a “Judeo-Christian culture”. But surely this is mistaken given the long history of persecution of Jews in Europe by Christians. Moreover, Pope Francis explicitly rejects freedom of expression in regard to religion – perhaps not altogether surprising for the head of a church which, until 1966, had a “list of prohibited books”.

So Judeo-Christian values – even if there is agreement on what they actually are – will not be efficacious if Europe is serious about integrating its Muslim citizens. What millions in Paris marched for last month are enlightenment, and secular values which can form the bedrock of a European identity that encompasses all its minorities. Those who are not prepared to adhere to these are values are, of course, in the words of Mayor Abutaled free to pack up their bags and leave. Muslims certainly have a large choice: the 57 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference where the values so cherished throughout Europe are largely forbidden.

First published in Le Monde Diplomatique (English) 28th February 2015

Letter to the Independent re Eric Pickles letter and MCB's initiative



Mine is the third letter:


Published in The Independent on 3rd February 2015

Tower Hamlets and the Dangers of Communal Politics‏



Last week, the accountancy firm PwC, in its audit of Tower Hamlets Council and its Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, catalogued very serious failings. The case sheds light on a troubling phenomenon: communal politics. We are well aware of the divisive, sectarian politics of Northern Ireland where voting on the basis of religious identity is the accepted norm and no mainstream party wishes to see it replicated in mainland Britain. However, with the embedding in of multiculturalism and its variant multifaithism, communal, sectarian politics are also becoming prevalent in many towns and cities with significant religious-ethnic minority communities. In other words, many candidates now seek votes from those of, and people vote on the basis of, their religion, ethnicity, and country of origin, rather than on political ideology.

This is precisely what has come to pass in Tower Hamlets. The bedrock of Mayor Lutfur Rahman's support comes from his fellow Muslim Bangladeshis who comprise about a third of the population of Tower Hamlets but about two-thirds of those who turned out to vote in the mayoral election were from his own Bangladeshi community, resulting in his victory. In accordance with the communal nature of his politics, all members of his cabinet have also been Bangladeshis. What he proceeded to do is a classic case of what Americans term 'pork barrel politics' where government funds are allocated to certain favoured sections of society in exchange for political support; which means that unfavoured groups lose out. It is a form of political corruption.

BBC Panorama's investigation (confirmed by the PwC audit) showed that council officers had proposed that Bangladeshi and Somali (likewise Sunni Muslim) groups receive £1.5m but its review of 362 grants approved by the mayor found that he increased funding to these groups by nearly two-and-a-half times - to £3.6m. The additional £2.1m came from the council's reserves in combination with a 25 per cent reduction in grants to other organisations; a clear instance of communal, pork barrel politics. It transpires that £3m was granted for 'faith heritage', mostly to mosques. Whereas the previous Labour administration funded religious groups for social services - itself problematic - Mr Rahman makes no such demands. A grave consequence of such communal politics is that non-religious groups that cater for all sections of the borough are starved of funds or crowded out. This is quite contrary to the goal of achieving 'One Tower Hamlets', Mayor Rahman's slogan.

Lutfur Rahman's is indeed an egregious case but the phenomenon of pork barrel politics afflicts the major parties also. The embrace of 'multiculturalism' launched a divisive dynamic, particularly in local communities, whereby many urban councils began to channel funds and resources to various ethnic, national and, more recently, faith communities in return for votes. A by-product of this is the accentuation of tensions between different communities who increasingly identify themselves in terms of faith. Indeed both the present and previous governments have recognised communal strains, and all are agreed on the importance of 'community cohesion' yet they have increasingly allocated funds to various 'faith communities'; a natural corollary given their belief that Britain is a multi-faith society. But, by so doing, they are adding to the problem of 'divisive community politics' highlighted by Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, with respect to Tower Hamlets.

Given the rising proportion of religious-ethnic minorities, and the high levels of segregation along communal lines in neighbourhoods of many towns and cities, the results of many parliamentary seats are now determined by the communal vote. There is, then, naturally the temptation on the part of the major political parties to appeal to groups on the basis of their ethnicity or religion. But this would be a grave mistake as it would pull the country even more down the spiral of communal politics and against the goal of social cohesion.

The 'Trojan Horse' plot in Birmingham - where a number of schools have been targeted for takeover by Islamic extremists - is yet another instance of the problems now arsing. But is this really surprising given the governments' stress of Britain being a multifaith society (with the imprimatur of a Minister for Faith and Communities) and its green light to more faith schools, and religious free schools? The very same Eric Pickles who is rightly concerned by divisive community politics in Tower Hamlets supports these deeply divisive and damaging schools and, moreover, continuously rails against secularism, the one principle that can forge together commonalities among disparate groups. As one Bangladeshi ex-Labour councillor Helal Rahman in the Panorama programme correctly stated, rather than uniting, faith divides people; especially so where identities based on faith trump all others.

This is a lesson that Mr Pickles and his government, as well as the opposition, needs to grasp with alacrity and start to work together to undo the harm that has already been done. Otherwise, we can expect communal, pork barrel politics to increasingly become the norm and so more of the likes of Luftur Rahman running councils and unwelcome Trojan Horses appearing in schools and elsewhere.

First published in Huffington Post on 17th November 2014

Political correctness and child sexual exploitation



The just published report on child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Greater Manchester by Ann Coffey MP follows a similar report by Prof Alexis Jay about the Yorkshire town of Rotherham, released in August.  It carries more accounts of teenage girls describing how they had been abused, and how the police had ignored their pleas for protection. Between January and September this year, Ms. Coffey's report reveals, Manchester police had compiled 9,789 reports on "missing children", of which 4,520 concerned "children looked after by the local authority". The 'grooming' of girls that leads to child sexual exploitation appears to be widespread as evidenced by cases in recent years in other towns and cities, for example, Derby, Oldham, Oxford, Telford, and Peterborough.

So why has there been such a monumental dereliction of duty on the part of the authorities?

The evidence shows three recurring themes: that the perpetrators are overwhelmingly men from a Pakistani Muslim background; that the victims are overwhelmingly vulnerable white girls (invariably under-16 years of age); and that the authorities had adopted the stance of 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil'. Even though thousands of girls have been identified as victims, this might still be the tip of the iceberg. Indeed Ms Coffey considers this appalling phenomenon to have become a 'social norm' in Greater Manchester.

A report on child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was submitted as far back as 2002 yet no action was taken. The 2014 Jay report states: 'Had this [2002 draft] report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice.'

Critics put this inaction by the various authorities down to 'political correctness', that is, the fear of the charge of racism. The former Labour MP for Rotherham Denis McShane admitted as much in an interview on BBC Radio in August 2014. He said: 'I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat…. Perhaps yes, as a true Guardian reader and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn't want to raise that [issue] too hard'. Mr. McShane's comments are a classic case of the 'political correctness' and self-censorship that may have led the authorities to criminal neglect. Now imagine if the perpetrators had been white men and the victims Pakistani Muslim girls. Make no mistake there would have been a vociferous outcry from across the political spectrum with the charge that these horrific crimes were a blatant manifestation of racism and Islamophobia.

So what explains this political correctness and the resultant gross dereliction of duty? I would argue that it has much to do with 'white liberal post-colonial guilt' that has long afflicted wide layers of the majority white-British society. It is political thinking from the 1970s and 1980s and stems from the fact that many non-white migrants were from former colonies and were often subjected to racism and discrimination. Accordingly, they needed solidarity and protection. This led to the evolution of a form of 'reverse racism', that is to say, an attitude of closing one's eyes to criminal acts and wrongdoings by ethnic minorities. In other words, non-whites are forever treated as perpetual victims. Silence or apologetics are offered in their support. And, for their part, ethnic minorities have become adept at playing this new version of the 'race card'. For instance, Islamic organisations such as Tell MAMA robustly argue that dwelling on Muslim involvement in phenomena such as child sexual exploitation, the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London, and the barbarism of Islamic State, is adding to 'Islamophobia' and racism, and aiding the far right. Though evidence for this is dubious at best, the message is clear: cast a blind eye as to what our people do, don't criticise, and 'don't rock the multicultural community boat'.

It is this reasoning that leads to the silence on the part of self-styled progressives and feminists with respect to other nefarious phenomena that are peculiar to some ethnic minorities. They include forced marriage, honour killings, the veiling of women, and (until recently) female genital mutilation. Indeed, when Ann Cryer, the former MP for Bradford and Keighley, began to raise the issue of forced marriage in British-Asian communities in 1999, she was denounced as a racist. But if there is widespread silence and self-censorship over such phenomena, then don't be surprised that they carry on. What we now have with the child sexual exploitation scandals is a case of the 'chickens coming home to roost'.

Britain's political parties, keen to maintain their support among the growing Asian Muslim communities have a history of accommodating the demands made by its 'leaders', and indeed of leaders of other ethnic minority communities. The blunt truth is that they do not wish risking the loss of this substantial vote bank. However, this is not an excuse for the dereliction of duty by the social workers and police. An important lesson is surely that if the horrors of Rotherham and Rochdale are not to recur, these institutions charged with protecting the vulnerable should be guided by the law and compassion, not wrongly understood "political correctness".

First published in 11th November

Britain Now Has a Four-Party System: Explaining UKIP's Appeal



There is little doubt that Britain now has a 4 party political system as UKIP continues to notch up electoral successes. It topped the polls in the May elections for the EU parliament and has just won its first elected parliamentary seat in the Clacton by-election on Thursday; and narrowly came second behind Labour in the by-election held in Heywood and Middleton. Both the Conservative and Labour parties are rightly fearful of its threat in next May's general election. For a number of years, polls show that immigration (along with the economy) is the issue that concerns voters most. This is a fact that even Labour is now coming to terms with as it recognises that UKIP's clarion call for a firm control of immigration is chiming in well with a very significant percentage of its core voters, and is the key reason for its rising popularity.

UKIP reminds one of someone with a clear sense of direction but prone to periodic crashes along the way. It is clear that those who are voting for the party are none too concerned about the accident-prone nature of many of its members but find the direction they are heading very appealing. In coming to terms with UKIP's rise, the political establishment has to recognise that it has not properly considered the concerns of the indigenous white working class British population, including the often sudden change to their communities and neighbourhoods from a rapid influx of migrants. As Gordon Brown acknowledged in 2010 and Ed Miliband last week, such legitimate concerns cannot be simply caste off as those of racists and bigots. This contrasts with the considerable recognition and accommodation of the culture and religion of ethnic minority groups which are, in many respects, very different to those obtaining in a largely secular Europe. I would argue that it is this neglected but stark reality that lies at the heart of UKIP's appeal.

There is some evidence for this view in research conducted in 2010 by ICM Research for the Equality and Human Rights Council: Understanding the Rise of the Far Right: Focus Group Results. The aim of this research was to identify the reasons for the rise in support of far right groups in three localities (Blackburn and Darwen in Lancashire; and in North West Leicestershire) all with high levels of deprivation, high unemployment, and few life chances. The focus group survey found three 'threats' to the lives of respondents: economic decline and migrant workers taking what they saw as "British" jobs; the disintegration and segregation of communities that were previously ethnically mixed; and white British people reportedly receiving a raw deal in the provision of jobs and services. The report highlighted that 'There is the perceived failure of the main political parties to represent white British social and economic interests, or even to speak in defence of the British way of life. Some think that the Labour party has deserted its working class roots; others that the main parties never really represented them in the first place. In the resulting vacuum, they are looking for a political alternative'. Thankfully, the far right alternative that was on offer in previous years, the British National Party, has now pretty much imploded but the desire for a political alternative that addresses these concerns, remains. Into this political vacuum has entered UKIP.

The reference to the 'erosion of church' as a cause of concern to ordinary people is odd given the precipitous decline in the espousing and practising of Christian belief and concomitant decline in church attendance. One explanation may be that whereas the church was important to previous generations, and gave a sense of community, the fact that this is no longer the case contrasts with ethnic minority settlers for whom religion is of immense importance to their sense of self-identity. An increasingly secular white population therefore finds this discomfiting and acknowledges that identities powerfully based on religion can be a driver of separation and self-segregation. Accordingly, in reaction to this, there appears to be an assertion of Christian cultural identity without adherence to the beliefs and rituals.
It is striking that UKIP's support in London is generally much less than elsewhere. But this ought not to be too surprising given that the white British population of London fell from 58 per cent in 2001 to 45 per cent in 2011. So whilst there was an influx of non-white settlers into the capital city, there was also 'white flight' as 620,000 white Londoners left the city; the sorts of people who are now UKIP supporters.

The sense of unease in this societal shift is provided by David Goodhart in his book The British Dream. He gives an example of the London suburb of Merton which has, in recent years, become 'super diverse', that is, attracted an array of sizeable migrant communities from around the world, including that of Ahmadi Muslims. The latter group, after a long battle over planning permission, has built a large mosque; in similar vein, a large traditional pub has been replaced by a Sunni Islamic centre. Goodhart points out that 'the Ahmadis are model immigrants in many ways. They preach an ecumenical form of Islam and are grateful to be given refuge in this country. But to many locals that's not the point. As one man described as White Heritage Elder Male in the jargon of race relations said: "We've lost this place to other cultures ... it's not English anymore"'. This is something Nigel Farage honed in on in his speech at the UKIP spring conference on 28th February when he argued that migration has made parts of the UK 'unrecognisable'.

In light of UKIP's success, attention must turn with much vigour on the part of national and local governments to the task of integrating well the large numbers of immigrants who have settled in the country. If this is done properly, there is every reason to hope that the issue of immigration, which now elicits so much concern across classes and ethnicities, will subside in importance to the levels obtaining in the early 1990s, and Britain will be the better for it.

First published in Huffington Post on 15th October 2014

Sectarianism and Other Concerns over Scottish Independence‏



As someone part of whose upbringing was in Scotland, I have kept a keen eye on the issues surrounding the independence referendum, much more so than the southern folk among whom I live. Part of my schooling was in a state primary school in Lanarkshire (quite near Glasgow) geared for Protestant children - there was a school for Catholic children not too far away. When I asked my father why all my classmates supported Rangers Football Club, and were most hostile to Celtic, their great rivals in Glasgow, he simply told me that this was because Rangers was the club for Protestants whilst Celtic was supported by Catholics.

Even though I hailed from a Sunni Muslim background with its condescending attitude towards the Shia and other smaller sects, this was my first encounter with sectarianism and I did not like it. Wind the clock forward to the present day and I do worry whether in an independent Scotland sectarianism might be intensified. Whilst it is true that its origins lie in Northern Ireland (a reminder of this was the march by Unionists in Edinburgh last Saturday) Scotland has not managed to root this ill out completely - even though, just as in the rest of Britain, the role of religion for most people is rapidly fading. Yet the Scottish government, like its Westminster counterpart, still accords privileges to religions, especially in education, thereby retaining a fertile ground for sectarian tensions. This profoundly important issue has been neglected in the Referendum campaign by both sides but remains an elephant in the room. Unintended and unexpected consequences can follow major changes.

When our family moved to England, we felt that we had changed home within the same country, moving across the borderless border: there were no cultural, linguistic and climatic shocks, just a change in the accents of the local people; though it became tiresome when Lanarkshire was constantly being confused with Lancashire! Bearing this in mind, I wonder if the push for independence is not a case of what Freud termed 'the narcissism of small differences'. This would certainly be the view of many people around the world for whom the key impact of the peoples of this small island is summed up in three words: 'The British Empire'. For the colonised, it made not the slightest difference whether the colonial master was from Aberdeen, Birmingham, or Cardiff. And few would dispute that a union now over 300 years old has not only been one of the oldest but also one of the most successful in history.

Of course, supporters of the 'Yes' campaign would point out to examples where the differences are anything but small, such as no prescription charges, much lower student tuition fees, and much less private sector involvement in the NHS in Scotland; and these are indeed crucial reasons as to why they may well win. The SNP, often derided as the 'Tartan Tories' in the past, has adhered to social democratic policies with admirable conviction leading to a public school-educated octogenarian friend of mine to quip that East Sussex should also join up in a devolved or independent Scotland; the moral of which is that differences which have arisen post-devolution are not desired by a good many people even in the relatively prosperous South East of England.

Whilst an independent Scotland will resolve the 'West Lothian question', by removing the social-democratically minded Labour and Lib Dem MPs from Westminster, it also increases the likelihood of an entrenched Tory majority which cements the differences. Even though this potential political fall-out has been discussed in the media, it seems that, as yet, people south of the border have not given it much thought. Not that they can do much about it given that the vote in the referendum does not extend to them.

The same thinking applies to illegal wars of aggression: Alex Salmond leader has consistently railed against the war-mongers in Westminster to great effect. The late, marvellous novelist, Iain Banks had argued that he 'would vote for independence purely never to be part of any more unnecessary illegal, immoral wars'. On the face of it, a most principled stance. But the wars launched by the Blair government against Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 were supported by key Scottish members of his cabinet including Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling and John Reid and, lest one forgets, Blair himself has strong Scottish connections. So the wars were about politics, not 'Scottishness' versus 'Englishness' or 'Britishness'. Moreover, to his credit, another Scot, Robin Cook, resigned from the cabinet after the vote for war against Iraq was passed. Cook would doubtless have been a leading light in the 'Better Together' camp and attempted to convince the likes of Iain Banks that his reasoning was rather too emotional and not based on reason and facts.

It is also a shame that Banks was not alive to witness lessons being learned when parliament voted against the war on Syria a year ago. Again, remove the Labour and Lib Dem MPs from Scotland, with their anti-war proclivities, and you risk the likelihood of Westminster voting yes to future 'illegal, immoral wars'. Perhaps these reservations will not be of much concern to many in the 'Yes' camp, but as is now widely acknowledged, independence will have profound implications in all parts of the UK - some of which may well be distinctly problematic. Whilst independence almost certainly does not risk turning Scotland into another Ireland or Iceland there is, however, no denying that in many crucial respects, it will result in its weakening.

Published in Huffington Post 16th September 2014

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