Tragedies in Barcelona and Marseille

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Tonight I can really identify with two places that over the years have meant so much to me.

The first is Barcelona and the wider Catalunya region where I spent so much of my working life, first for Pfizer where I worked with my good friend Joan Baiget in Tarragona who introduced me to the Catalan “C” which I proudly displayed on the rear of my old Ford Sierra.

Joan not only welcomed me to the factory where I was visiting to help install local area networks and email, but embraced me into his family and vice versa in the late 1980’s.  I remember seeing human castles being built, a huge Roman amphitheatre and a richness of life and a proud heritage of the people that I’ve always felt a strong connection to.

In more recent times I have spent many days in Barcelona acting as host to many CIOs attending the Gartner Symposium and although the days were long and tiring the attraction of the city and its people has never faded.

Unfortunately the scenes being played out on TV today where the Catalan independence vote has been brutally repressed by the Spanish government makes me realise how lucky I am to be a British citizen & live in Wales.  For example I hoped Scotland would remain part of the UK in the recent referendum and so was pleased with the result.  I truly believe that democracy is all about permitting a vote and then respecting the outcome.  Something to ponder I think for the wider Europe.

Then just a few minutes ago after watching the climax to an uplifting BBC TV series on “Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?” (to which the answer for me is patently no) I saw on the news that two young women were murdered in a knife attack by a terrorist on the steps outside Marseille railway station leading down to the old town.   The same location where I aged 20/21 as a InterRail student twice sat in the early 1980’s pondering my next steps.

It was there where I met my future travelling companion one Manfred Kratzner from Munich, a fellow student who I remember was covered from head to foot in dust after a traumatic visit to Spain beforehand.  We became good friends and I often wonder what became of that tall, ever so lacking German.

Memories of so long ago and such happy times, so my heart reaches out to all those innocents caught up with the evils of the consequences of politics and religion seen today.  It only makes me more certain of the need for all of us to enjoy life and concentrate on what matters, namely family and friends, while we can.  Too much ambition and certainty that you’re right has always been a dangerous cocktail and I want no part in it.

 

 

Tragedies in Barcelona and Marseille

Keep Calm and Carry On

 

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I finally went to sleep this morning around 2.45am after watching on the BBC in bed the EU referendum results as they came in.  Eventually enough was enough and my eyes closed to join Debbie lying next to me in sleep.

Apart from early signs that the Brexit vote were stronger than expected, it seemed at that time to be a dead heat & with London’s vote still to come I pretty much concluded that the Remain vote would prevail.

I woke up around 7am to find that not for the first time my forecast was wrong…

Let me give you some background thinking of what I think happened and how the political class i.e. most MPs, the media as well as the pollsters, misjudged the mood of the majority of people eligible to vote in the United Kingdom.

I’ll also share my concerns about the dangers of emotional overreaction from both sides and the need to “Keep Calm and Carry On“.

This result seems to have surprised many of the people actually voting Brexit.  This vote also appears to cross normal party political lines as most MPs voted Remain.  Geographical majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland & London agreed with them,  while the rest of England & Wales i.e. the majority of the British population didn’t.

Demographically there also seems a dichotomy in that most younger voters tended to support Remain, while the majority of the older population voted against, although as I can see from dialogue on Facebook today there are many exceptions to this!

So what do I think are the main issues that drove the majority towards Brexit?

Immigration and national security concerns, including increasing the burden further on over-stretched public services I’m sure played a part.  A perception of the financial waste and lack of oversight & accountability of the remote EU political class, together with the eventual loss of national identity added to these concerns.

The common theme I sense is the fact that many voters felt that their concerns were not being listened to and that the Remain arguments were largely based on negative campaigning against Brexit, rather than promoting its positive virtues.

For example, labelling anyone supporting Brexit being racist or xenophobic I’m sure didn’t help balanced reasoning and as a recent migrant into Wales I’ve very sensitive to such concerns.

So where do I stand and why?

First you have to understand that I’ve changed my views as I’ve got older.  In my youth I was a fervent supporter of ever closer European integration and a supporter of the Euro currency.  I’ve always worked in European HQ’s of American global multi-nationals since graduation, so free trade and free movement of skilled workers across the globe  was a no-brainer & a common experience to me at the executive level.

I suppose what I didn’t realise the way that multi-national business would ruthlessly exploit EU countries such as Ireland and Luxembourg for tax advantage, nor appreciate the impact of constraints the Euro would eventually put on the economy and people of Greece.

As the EU expanded I also didn’t appreciate just how much immigration of low skilled workers would displace younger indigenous workers from employment opportunities &/or hold down wages.  Finally I never envisaged how countries such as Belgium & France in the Schengen agreement area would have the lack of border controls exploited by terrorists, nor the lack of unity across the EU when it came to dealing humanely with the refugee crisis.

I personally have come to the conclusion that ongoing rapid economic growth is not necessarily always a good thing.  Witness my relief in moving away from the polluted and overcrowded but economically so prosperous South-East.

The relentless growth of Heathrow near where we used to live sickened me in terms of the ever increasing noise & air pollution, those supporting it rarely lived with the consequences in reality & repeated broke promises in terms of expansion.  It got to the stage where I dreaded commuting into central London and the overcrowded public transport system as well as flying away on business.

That said, there are many consequences of this referendum result that do concern me.  The first is increasing polarisation of much of the population and potential emotional overreaction.  This is exacerbated by worries for many old friends and ex-colleagues who have migrated here and how they feel about their perceived ongoing welcome.  The increased possibility of the break up of the United Kingdom is also something I dread.

So what are the potential benefits of this democratic decision?  As I see it the ability to control our borders & set realistic immigration levels sustainably should not be underestimated. Slowing down the population growth in the U.K. as a whole is important to me as I feel it just isn’t environmentally sustainable and intrinsically not good for our future generations.

Let’s just hope that after the initial furore dies down, that common sense will prevail and that we all make the best of this outcome together.

Keep Calm and Carry On