14 May 2022: The driving licence saga; Spanish noise levels; Scottish corruption; The UK and Macron’s ‘New EU’; & Other stuff

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza 

The investigation into corruption around the massive contracts to build a high-speed train in Saudi Arabia has been kicked into the round file. Allegedly for ‘lack of evidence’. I guess few will be surprised at this development.

I do have some sympathy for Brits who came after the 2020(2021?) deadline and have to sign up for both theory and practical driving tests here in Spain, preceded by very expensive lessons. The practical test can be very easy but the theory test, by all accounts, is designed to guarantee failure, if you haven’t spent hundreds of hours beforehand checking previous tests and mastering the 2,000 long question database. But, as I’ve admitted, I’m not so sympathetic towards those who were resident here and should have known what was coming down the pike. And I’ve little sympathy for those who drove for years on a British licence after 6 months, knowing it was illegal. All that said, it does seem that Spain is the only EU country which hasn’t given post-Brexit rights to British licence-holders, allegedly because the UK government has denied them access to the database which will allow the Spanish government to chase those who’ve been fined while on holiday. I guess that Lenox Napier won’t be the only person who sees this as yet another example of how Spain treats badly the several hundred thousand Brits resident here, each of whom puts more cash into Spanish coffer than any bloody tourist. Especially all those on cheap fixed-price deals.

The British ambassador said something about this mess on Facebook a couple of days ago, you might be able to hear it here.

If you’re driving and want to park, here’s a couple of things you really shouldn’t do, as they’re illegal in Spain.

Here’s an informative blog post on the nicknames of Spanish kings. I was reminded by the picture of Felipe 4 that I saw a woman in a Pontevedra street last week who had a very  similar face, right down to the Hapsburg chin.

Spain is a famously noisy country and the tolerance levels of Spaniards are very high. That said, from time to time things can get out-of-hand and the the ‘Latin temperament’ will show itself. To possible excess. Nine people have been arrested in Granada after a shootout followed an argument over playing music too loud. Police say up to 20 people were involved in the brawl. The incident in the early hours of Monday morning in the town of Baza in northern Granada province of Andalucia. 

Some useful advice on wills for Brits resident here.

The UK

Effie Deans is not a fan of Spanish independence or the SNP who’s driving for it. The cause of independence, she says, is more important than anything else. It is more important than morality. It is more important even than crime. Not only in Scotland, of course. Anyway, you can read her latest article on permitted corruption here.

Wow! The article below sees AEP in positive modeEmmanuel Macron’s ‘Confederation’ may be the perfect home for Brexit Britain.

Russia

Both Russian and Ukrainian sources suggest Putin is very ill with, inter alia, blood cancer. The Ukrainians also claim that a coup against him is being prepared, possibly allowing him to retire on health grounds. We can only hope – on the (vain) assumption his successor will be more sane.

Meanwhile . .  At least 7 oligarchs have died recently in mysterious circumstances amid rumours of anger at Putin’s handling of the economy. Many have seen their fortunes shrink dramatically. The most recent death was of a former executive at Lukoil, Russia’s second largest energy company. The official explanation was that he poisoned himself with toad venom while trying to cure a hangover. Certainly sounds plausible. Many of us keep such a toad handy.

The Way of the World

‘The trans lobby tried to cancel my book – they don’t want people asking questions’. When Holly Lawford-Smith’s work on gender incurred the wrath of activists, it put the New Zealand academic in the eye of a publishing storm.See the 2nd article below.

In the famous words of the Henry 2 . . . Who will rid us of these turbulent high-priests?? 

Finally . . .

One cartoonist’s nice take on the defenestration of the head of the intelligence service, as a result of the Pegasus scandal. If you don’t get it, ask a Spanish friend:-

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.   

THE ARTICLES

1. Emmanuel Macron’s ‘Confederation’ may be the perfect home for Brexit Britain. A constellation of liberal democracies open to trade is an idea full of seductive possibilities for the UK: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Telegraph

Emmanuel Macron has made a tantalising constitutional offer to Brexit Britain, even if it is couched in vague language and has no official backing from the European Union’s institutions.

He has revived François Mitterand’s plan at the end of the Cold War for a European Confederation. “Let us be clear, the EU cannot be the only means of structuring the European continent,” he told Euro-MPs this week.

Macron proposes a constellation of democratic and liberal states that wish to trade and cooperate on friendly terms without having to accept the full EU package, with its ever more powerful executive in Brussels, and with a supreme court in Luxembourg acquiring hegemonic jurisdiction. 

What was deemed impossible during the bitter Brexit talks – and before that as the UK was dragged by perpetual treaty creep into a proto-superstate against its will – has suddenly become a fashionable possibility because of Vladimir Putin’s attempt to overthrow the European order by force.

The UK was told that there could be only a binary choice: either in (or almost in without voting rights, like Norway); or out, and little different from Vietnam, Brazil, or Madagascar. Put crudely, the Barnier line was that any form of bespoke arrangement was cakeism, a threat to the indivisible legal unity of the EU. 

Mr Macron’s “European political community” is designed to tackle the conundrum of Ukraine, a disguised way to head off the fast-track EU accession of a country deemed too big and unruly to be digested. 

It is a formula to park Georgia and Moldova in a halfway house for decades, and perhaps secretly also the EU candidate states of Serbia and the Western Balkans. Quai’ d’Orsay thinking is that EU enlargement has already gone far enough already.

The confederation raises obvious questions about Brexit. Mr Macron did not explicitly name the UK but said the arrangement should be open to “those countries which have left the European Union”, which is the same thing. He did not mean Greenland.

The idea clearly has a head of steam. Former Italian premier Enrico Letta proposed a confederation of 36 states in a paper last month, with the backing of Italy’s Mario Draghi. 

Charles Grant from the Centre for European Reform says the plan has support from the EU’s President Charles Michel and the Council secretariat, though not from Commission officials, visceral foes of “variable geometry” and anything that departs from the uniform script. 

“The move is highly significant. There is a strong desire for a rapprochement with the UK, and they might even be willing to rewrite the Protocol, if there is a different prime minister. Relations with Boris Johnson are now too toxic,” he said.

Some might note that such a confederation already exists. It is called the Council of Europe. It was founded in 1949 with help from Winston Churchill, with a Convention written by British lawyers that enshrined liberal principles, indisputably more liberal than the EU’s own rights Charter and Acquis. The EU has sought to emasculate the Council over the decades, and refuses to be bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. But let us not quibble.

The French president told voters before his re-election that he had learned hard lessons in office and would do things differently over the next five years. Perhaps this includes his choice – and it was a choice – to treat the UK as an enemy, something that no other EU leader has done since the Referendum.

The gesture is an olive branch from Paris and should be taken as such. It would be unwise for Downing Street to force a showdown over the Northern Irish Protocol at this juncture.

In part, it is a matter of chivalry. Such a demarche would be seen as an attempt to exploit the EU’s existential crisis on its Eastern border, one fast morphing into a recessionary shock. It would again poison relations just as the prospects of a better post-Brexit settlement are opening up.

Legislation to override the Protocol will be blocked for a year by the House of Lords in any case, rendering the gesture provocative to Brussels and Washington without being effective.

It makes more sense to keep rolling over the grace periods unilaterally on the shipment of goods to Ulster. 

“This has been going on for a year, and with each passing week it gets harder for the EU to do anything about it. The UK can say that the Single Market hasn’t blown up, so what is your problem?” said Professor Anand Menon from King’s College London, head of the UK in a Changing Europe. 

President Macron seems to be proposing the very relationship with Europe that middle Britain has long sought, whether moderate Remainers or moderate Brexiteers – and the line between them is an artifice of post-Referendum polemics. 

“This new European organisation would offer democratic nations, which adhere to our core values, a new space for political cooperation on security, energy, transport, infrastructure investment and free movement of people, especially our young people,” he said.

Mr Macron’s wording implies giving Ukraine and others a higher degree of access to the EU single market than they already have. This necessarily reopens aspects of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

The EU can change certain elements of the UK deal immediately, if it wants better ties. It has denied the UK mutual recognition for conformity assessment on products – the barebones courtesy offered to Canada and Australia. It has refused to reciprocate even on financial equivalence (itself very limited), withholding the cooperation accorded to New York or Singapore in areas such as derivatives. It offered China’s Communists better terms on financial services. 

That Brexit deal is unlike anything that exists in international trade law. The EU aims to prevent future legal divergence on the grounds that this would be unfair competition. But competition is the lifeblood of the free market, and the root of rising living standards for three centuries. It does not flout WTO principles at all.

The EU hopes to do this by reaching into British domestic law in order to regulate how products are made, which is a radical break with WTO practice. It has a ‘rebalancing mechanism’ armed with hooks, all under pain of ‘cross-retaliation’ if the UK is deemed to have offended. There is a constant Sword of Damocles because the EU can shut down the whole accord at any time. Britain accepted such terms only under duress.

This punitive settlement has always been a risky strategy for the EU itself since it pushes the UK further into the US regulatory orbit, and may lead to a New York-London condominium over Western finance. Mr Macron knows that Paris has failed to carry away much of the City’s business, and he discovered in the AUKUS submarine deal that making sure Brexit “hurts” is a two-way street. Charm might take him further.

His confederation has not gone down well in Eastern Europe. Mr Macron exalted the courage of Ukraine, “already today at the heart of our Europe, of our family, or our union”, only then to deflate hopes by adding that it would probably be “several decades” before the country joins the EU.

Ultimately, Ukraine would not have a choice. A close confederation would at least be better than the status quo. 

For Britain it is full of seductive possibilities, the answer for millions of us who want the sort of relationship with Europe that Canada has with the United States. It is not such a scandalous thing to ask after all.

2. ‘The trans lobby tried to cancel my book – they don’t want people asking questions’. When Holly Lawford-Smith’s work on gender incurred the wrath of activists, it put the New Zealand academic in the eye of a publishing storm

The Oxford University Press is an august institution that rarely attracts controversy. One new title, however, has caused a furore, with petitions circulating that question both the decision to publish and the author’s credentials. It has even been accused of endangering lives, as though the mere act of publishing a book some people imagine they won’t like could have fatal consequences.

Think I’m exaggerating? Then you haven’t seen the reaction to the publication of Gender-Critical Feminism by Dr Holly Lawford-Smith, the latest feminist to attract the ire of trans activists. Lawford-Smith is a cheerful academic, a New Zealander who laughs often, but you wouldn’t know it from the splenetic accusations hurled against her. According to her critics, this 39-year-old associate professor in political philosophy at the University of Melbourne has the “explicit objective of denying trans people the right to live freely or to exist at all”.

The accusations are all the more shocking because the signatories of both petitions claim connections with the Oxford University Press (OUP). One has been signed by people who say they are “members of the OUP USA Guild”, explicitly demanding that the press think again about publishing Lawford-Smith’s book. They claim that publication will “embolden and legitimise the views of transphobes and contribute to the harm that is perpetrated against the trans community globally”.

The other group describe themselves as “members of the international scholarly community” with links to the OUP as authors, editors, reviewers and translators. They object to just about everything Lawford-Smith has ever said or done, even characterising the purely descriptive title of her book as “an anti-trans dog whistle”. They show scant regard for editorial independence, suggesting that the OUP should “offset the harm” done by publishing the book by “soliciting and publishing trans-affirming scholarship by transgender authors”.

This is not Lawford-Smith’s first book for the OUP. Her research interests include collective action and she published Not In Their Name: Are Citizens Culpable For Their States’ Actions in 2019. She might well be described as an accidental philosopher, enrolling in lunchtime courses while she was studying fashion design. “I fell completely in love with philosophy,” she tells me. Her training is in moral and political philosophy, which means she’s an outsider to feminist philosophy, something she credits with providing “complete independence” from any kind of orthodoxy.

I ask her whether she expected a hostile reaction to Gender-Critical Feminism. “I suppose I did,” she says thoughtfully, “or at least I knew the process wouldn’t be straightforward. I think this was the OUP’s first experience of doing a book that would be very controversial. It went through a very stringent process.”

‘I did have some moments when I thought how will I pay the rent. I was stressed out, wondering if I should look for another academic job’ Credit: Chris Watt

She’s pleased that the OUP hasn’t given in to pressure, describing their response as “brave”. David Clark, managing director of OUP academic publications, told critics that the book had been thoroughly reviewed by experts. “We are confident that Gender-Critical Feminism offers a serious and rigorous academic representation of this school of feminist thought,” he added.

A fellow philosopher, Kathleen Stock, offered a pithier response to calls for the book to be pulled. “I regret to inform you that the academic babies are at it again,” she wrote on Twitter. Stock’s solidarity with Lawford-Smith is unsurprising, given her own ordeal at the hands of gender extremists which led to her resigning her post at Sussex University last autumn. It is also striking that several of the female academics who have been harassed by trans activists – Stock, Lawford-Smith and the criminologist Jo Phoenix – are lesbians. So is Allison Bailey, the barrister who is currently taking her chambers and the LGBT organisation Stonewall to an employment tribunal.

All these women, most of them long-standing campaigners for gay and lesbian rights, have become familiar with the hyperbole of trans activists who characterise any words that divert from their dogma as an attempt to wipe out trans people. In what is becoming a pattern for women who argue back, Lawford-Smith says campus security at Melbourne University like to know her movements when a protest is planned. “I generally stay off campus on those days,” she adds, providing another illustration of the way the working lives of gender-critical academics have been affected by harassment from trans activists.

It was the harassment of Stock that first alerted Lawford-Smith to the threat posed to women – and the discipline of philosophy – by gender ideology. “They were treating debate on the issue as though it’s disgusting to ask certain questions,” she tells me. “My instinct was that’s really wrong. It’s really wrong how they were treating [Stock]. Philosophy is the discipline where you can ask anything. You put emotion to one side and discuss the arguments.”

Prof Kathleen Stock, an expert in analytic philosophy, quit the University of Sussex after facing death threats and accusations of transphobia Credit: Andrew Crowley

As Lawford-Smith has discovered, putting emotion to one side is not an approach favoured by trans activists. Gender-critical feminism, which believes there are two biological sexes and questions the existence of “gender identity”, is anathema to them. Instead of engaging with the arguments, however, they smear authors like Lawford-Smith. People unfamiliar with their tactics may be astonished to see her accused of something close to genocide in one of the petitions. It accuses her of stirring up controversy “without being held accountable for very real and dangerous consequences of these discourses for entire demographics of human beings”.

Appalling though such accusations are, Lawford-Smith has been here before. “There’s been a series of things,” she says. “I think I’m used to them by now.” Last year she set up a website called ‘No Conflict, They Said’, which invited women to post their experiences of encountering men in women-only spaces such as changing rooms, toilets and prisons. The website suggested that governments around the world were passing laws that replace sex with gender identity, without collecting data about the impact on women.

“Women started telling their stories, but it became an issue with [Melbourne] university,” Lawford-Smith says. Some Australian states, including Victoria, have gone much further than the UK in legal terms, allowing individuals to change their sex by a simple declaration, a form of self-ID with few safeguards. Lawford-Smith doesn’t hold back about the changes: “They advance men’s interests at the expense of women’s rights. It’s incredible to see this from a government that presents itself as exceptionally progressive.” She describes politicians supporting self-ID in Victoria as “indoctrinated up to the eyeballs in gender identity ideology” and laments the fact they’ve met little opposition, something she blames on “the tepid ‘inclusivity-at-any-cost’ nature of mainstream feminism”.

The website prompted multiple complaints, accusing Lawford-Smith of violating university policy by referring to men who identify as women as men, even though the project had nothing to do with the institution. “I didn’t know how seriously to take it,” she recalls. “I did have some moments when I thought how will I pay the rent. I was stressed out, wondering if I should look for another academic job. I was a bit worn down, but I came through it.”

She is, as her views on self-ID suggest, unafraid of speaking her mind. She is forensic on the current hot potato of trans participation in sport which has hit the headlines since a male-bodied trans woman, Lia Thomas, began winning women’s swimming events in the US. Lawford-Smith tells me that science should settle the question, pointing out that neither surgery nor medical interventions change bone size. “I’m pretty militant on that topic,” she declares, although she thinks there are rare cases where a male child who has been on puberty blockers and hasn’t gone through puberty could compete fairly with women.

It would be a tiny minority, she points out, and adds that she opposes medical or surgical transition for under-18s. Her preferred solution is having a “protected” female category and an open category, which anyone could choose to compete in. Many people who are new to the issue will regard that as a fair outcome for everyone, but it’s the kind of common sense that gender extremists don’t want to hear.

Indeed the attack on Lawford-Smith’s book demonstrates their continuing reliance on smear tactics, but it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they’ve chosen the wrong target on this occasion. Thanks to their singularly ill-judged efforts, Lawford-Smith is getting the kind of publicity few academic authors could ever hope for.

One comment

  1. The Saudi HST business was ever so frustrating. To put it simply Spains railway builders have excellent engineers on their books. And that has led to Spain being amongst the best in this industry globally. It is a genuine Made In Spain success story. It was so unnecessary to go down that road of corruption so often travelled and tarnish the image of the industry.

    Ref Parking, there’s nowt like a bit of doble fila to make your day.

    Like

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