Latest Political Developments

Hello and welcome to this second edition of the Politics and IR Society blog for 2019-20. I apologise for the delay in publishing this post; with the exams fully behind us we can look forward to a lovely break from our studies and to enjoy the summer holiday. Here is a summary of the latest political developments in international politics.

In the latest twist in the Brexit saga, the Conservative Party has begun its search for a new leader in the wake of Theresa May’s intention to step down after the upcoming fourth ‘meaningful vote’ on the British government’s EU withdrawal agreement on the 3rd of June. Prime Minister May, during a meeting with Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, agreed that following the vote, which is expected to be the fourth and decisive rejection of the agreement she has negotiated during her near-three year term in office, she would have exhausted her mandate. This would consequently begin the process through which a new Conservative leader and Prime Minister would be elected by the party either within the summer or by the party conference in October. This also comes amidst opinion polling suggesting that the Conservatives are expected to face their worst ever set of national election results in the European parliamentary elections on the 23rd of May, which in turn has increased pressure on May to resign before the party can suffer further losses to the insurgent Brexit Party. Boris Johnson, long rumoured to have held leadership ambitions and of whom desires a clean break from the EU, has publicly announced that he will run for the leadership once the position becomes available, and a number of cabinet ministers such as Sajid Javid, Amber Rudd and Michael Gove are also tipped to run to succeed May. In response to the Prime Minister’s decision to step aside, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced that talks between the government and Labour in regards to reaching a compromise in regards to Brexit have come to an end, arguing that a lack of government stability renders a lasting agreement between the two sides impossible. For Theresa May, this will represent a sorry end to her premiership, as she has failed to achieve her objectives in regards to Brexit and other areas of government policy during her premiership. More importantly however, it has cast the future of Brexit into even greater uncertainty, and has thereby rendered the prospects of a resolution to the political impasse even less likely. The deadlock over Brexit is therefore unlikely to be resolved for the time-being.

Meanwhile, tensions between the United States and Iran have dangerously increased in the last few days, with US President Donald Trump dispatching the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its battle group, along with bombers and missile systems to the region in order to counter what the US government alleges is a growing threat to US interests in the region by Iran. Notably, all non-emergency staff at the United States’ diplomatic mission in Iraq have been ordered to leave the country in the wake of the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran. Such developments strongly imply that the Trump administration is increasingly considering the possibility of conflict between the two countries, particularly in the case of certain members of Trump’s administration urging a confrontational stance with Iran. As noted by a number of foreign policy analysts, the brinkmanship between the American and Iranian governments is a situation that is fraught with risk, as a miscalculation by either side could ultimately lead to the outbreak of a prolonged and highly destructive conflict in the Middle East. This has unsurprisingly been met with an urgent attempt on the part of European governments to reiterate the importance of diplomacy as the means to monitor Iran’s nuclear programme, especially in the case of honouring the 2015 agreement signed by the US, the EU and Iran, and to warn of the consequences of potential military action carried out by either the United States or Iran against the other. The tension between the two nations ultimately has the potential to dangerously escalate, and diplomatic restraint is required to resolve this.

In regards to the latest developments in Australian politics, the nation’s federal election appears to have ended in a shock victory for the incumbent centre-right Coalition government, defying opinion polls that had projected a narrow win for the opposition Labor Party. With results still being counted, the Coalition, which is comprised of the Liberal Party and three other conservative parties that share a joint whip in parliament, is expected to either win a small majority or to fall slightly short of one in the House of Representatives, thereby allowing incumbent Prime Minister and Liberal leader Scott Morrison to continue in office. Labor, who had led in most polls during the election campaign, were expected to win a majority government, but instead has suffered a third consecutive electoral defeat since losing office in the 2013 election. The results have been met with extreme dismay amongst supporters of Labor, which regarded a Labor victory as fundamental towards addressing global climate change, and celebration amongst supporters of the Coalition, who had warned of higher taxes under Labor. One major source of disappointment for the Coalition however was the defeat of former Prime Minister Tony Abbot in his Warringah constituency to former Olympic skier Zali Steggall, who ran as an independent candidate. The loss of the former premier’s very safe seat has been attributed to Steggall’s strong campaigning on the issue of climate change, whilst Abbot has largely remained opposed to drastic measures to cut global emissions, and of whom was also considered to be out of step with increasingly progressive values within Australian society such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage, which was approved by Australian voters in a 2017 referendum. The surprise re-election of the Coalition government and the loss of one of its safest seats and former leader demonstrates how political outcomes can never be taken for granted, regardless of opinion polling or general expectations amongst politicians and the electorate.

And in the case of large-scale protests across Sudan in recent weeks, the military government of the state has temporarily suspended talks with pro-democracy demonstrators over the proposed transition from martial to civilian rule. This development has been attributed by the government to tactics on the part of protesters such as the establishment of road blocks in the capital city Khartoum, whilst representatives of the pro-democracy movement accused authorities of excessive violence against demonstrators, 14 of whom were recently wounded in central Khartoum. The negotiations had previously been regarded as constructive and were expected to reach an agreement in the last few days in regards to the composition of the interim government. Whilst the negotiations have not fully collapsed, this is nonetheless a set-back for the pro-democracy demonstrations that have been on-going since December of last year. These demonstrations emerged out of widespread discontent with cuts to bread and fuel subsidies by the authoritarian regime of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was already widely blamed for the chronic economic stagnation facing Sudan, along with institutionalised corruption and widespread human rights abuses. On the 11th of April, in the wake of the sustained and prolonged protests, al-Bashir was removed from office and imprisoned by the military, which subsequently formed an interim administration that it argued would only last for three years. This was not enough to satisfy protesters, who insisted that the military step aside to allow for the establishment of a civilian administration immediately. The subsequent negotiations between the government and leaders of the opposition movement were established in an attempt to come to an agreed settlement, which is now less likely following the suspension of the talks. Ultimately, it is clear that despite the widespread popular support for the establishing of civilian rule, the military regime is unlikely to relinquish its authority over Sudan in the meantime, demonstrating the uphill struggle of the pro-democracy movement in the country.

That concludes this week’s article. I will shortly update everyone in regards to the upcoming events and programme planned by the society for the coming academic year.

Hello and Welcome!

Hello and welcome to the inaugural blog post of the Politics and International Relations Society Committee for 2019-20. As your Blog Officer, I shall be regularly updating everyone with the latest news in the world of politics and the upcoming events of the society, and I hope to encourage everyone to participate in an interesting and passionate political debate on the blog. This inaugural article is a summary of major events in international politics, starting with this week’s developments on Brexit.

In the wake of continued deadlock in Parliament and in her cabinet, Prime Minister Theresa May has finally been forced to seek a further extension to the Article 50 process for the UK’s departure from the European Union beyond the current default exit date of the 12th of April and to enter into negotiations with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. This has occurred in the wake of three consecutive defeats for the controversial Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the British government and the European Union in the House of Commons, and the subsequent failure of MPs to agree on an alternative solution in a series of indicative votes, in which a proposed Customs Union, ‘Common Market 2.0’, a second referendum and a cancellation of Brexit in the absence of an approved deal were all rejected. The decision of Theresa May to finally enter into a dialogue with the opposition to arrive at a common agreement has been met with strong anger amongst many of her pro-Brexit MPs, who have derided the Labour leader as unfit for any role in the political decision making of the UK and fear that Brexit will either involve much closer ties to the EU compared to what they have sought. Should this negotiation fail, May has further promised to respect future indicative votes held in Parliament before the UK leaves the EU. This therefore demonstrates the fluidity of British politics, in which nothing can be taken for granted.

Turning to international politics, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expelled two former members of his cabinet from his governing Liberal Party in the wake their whistleblowing of alleged impropriety within the Canadian government. Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney general, and Jane Philpott, formerly the president of Canada’s treasury board, both resigned from their government posts earlier this year over Wilson-Raybould’s allegation that Trudeau pressured her into abandoning the prosecution of the Quebec-based firm SNC Lavalin, which has been fighting bribery and corruption charges in relation to construction projects it undertook in Libya during the regime of Col. Gaddafi. Trudeau has publically warned against legal action against SNC Lavalin on the basis that the loss of contracts could threaten jobs in Quebec, which is a key state for his party to win in order achieve victory in the federal election this October. The decision of Mr Trudeau to remove the two MPs from the Liberal group in the Canadian parliament came after Wilson Raybould leaked a recorded phone call between herself and senior public servant Michael Wernick in which Wernick pressured her on behalf of the Prime Minister to defer the prosecution of SNC Lavalin; this action was denounced by Trudeau and several MPs as improper. Although Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing, the expulsion of the two MPs may come across as suspicious to the Canadian electorate, who polls suggest are increasingly favouring the opposition Conservatives. The Trudeau government therefore faces an increasingly difficult battle to win re-election this year in the aftermath of the scandal.

Meanwhile, the long-serving President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned in the wake of popular demonstrations against his rule. Bouteflika, 82, has governed Algeria since 1999 and has been credited with re-establishing order in the country after the devastating civil war between 1991 and 2002, and for an era of strong economic growth that has left the Algerian economy as one of the most dynamic African economies. The President was however under increasing pressure to step down in light of his age and increasingly frail health, and a general desire for change amongst the Algerian public. After he announced his intention for a fifth consecutive term in February, his immediate resignation was demanded by tens of thousands who participated in peaceful protests, which were not quelled by his offers to step aside at the end of his term on the 28th of April. Finally, military leaders appear to have forced his hand in taking the side of the demonstrations, hence the resignation of President Bouteflika on Wednesday evening. Despite the departure of the President, the demonstrations have continued as protesters seek to establish a wider overhaul of the political system. Ultimately, Algeria faces an uncertain future in the absence of the leader that has governed the state for 20 years.

And finally, one of the most significant political developments this week is the introduction of the death penalty for those convicted of homosexuality and adultery in Brunei. This is the latest stage in the introduction of Sharia law in the Islamic-majority country in 2014 by the government of the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah. From what has been argued by a number of political commentators, including the founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, Matthew Woolfe, the penal laws are intended to boost the popularity of the Sultan’s government amongst religious conservatives at a time when Brunei’s economy is in decline. These new laws have sparked international outrage, with calls from public figures such as Sir Elton John and George Clooney to boycott establishments with connections to the country, including the Dorchester hotel in London, and multiple governments have urged the Brunei government to reconsider its decision. Moreover the University of Aberdeen is currently reviewing the honorary degree that it awarded to the Sultan of Brunei in 1995 and may rescind the reward, demonstrating the international level of opposition against the measures.

That concludes this inaugural article for the blog under the committee for 2019-20. I hope you have enjoyed this article, and I will be back shortly for more coverage on the major political events shaping our world.

Studying a Joint Degree at Aberdeen

Andreas Lainer

Some of you might be in exactly the same position as I and will be well aware of the advantages and disadvantages one faces when deciding to study a joint honours degree. After studying at our university for almost three years I think it is fair to say that I have sufficient experience to share my thoughts on this topic with you. 

First of all, I would like to say that I generally like the university’s concept of getting to choose four different courses in the first year of study. For many students from continental Europe this is quite a new und unfamiliar system. Typically, this kind of freedom would not be allowed at most EU universities and one would only be taking courses which are part of one’s main degree. And while some may prefer the European approach, the system at our university gives its students the chance of exploring other of their interests or hobbies in greater depth. I think it should therefore not come as a surprise that plenty of students either change their whole degree or switch to a joint honours program after first year. I am among those students as I had initially enrolled as a Politics and International Relations student and later changed to Economics and IR. My reasons for this were that I enjoyed my first-year Economics courses, but more importantly that I realised that I would rather pursue a career in the political economy than in party politics and I believe that this joint degree is a better way of preparing me for this path.

I did notice that this decision did not hugely impact my second year at university, as I could have technically taken the exact same courses while continuing to study a single honours degree. One thing that I did notice is that switching to Economics and IR had made my quest for finding a payed internship (in continental Europe) over the summer break significantly easier. On the one hand, some employers certainly value a joint degree more and on the other hand I believe it is easier to find internships as an Economics student than as a Politics student as there are simply more of them available. I have previous heard that employers prefer students with a single honours degree, but cannot confirm that from my own experience.

I certainly did notice the difference between single and joint honours last semester, during my first term of third year. I would have been quite keen on taking either the course ‘IR3018: International Security’ or ‘PI3073: The EU: Contemporary Challenges’ but I was unable to do as I could only take one IR course for this semester and this was the compulsory course ‘PI3069: Researching in the 21st Century’.  While there are no other mandatory Politics and International Relations courses in third and forth year one is naturally still fairly limited in the number of courses that one can pick (one each semester) and one might miss out on other very interesting courses as a consequence. I would also like to add that I am, however, very contempt with studying only one course in Economics per term as this allows me to take those courses with more of a focus on the political economy instead to studying economic concepts and graphs which I will most likely never need for the career that I strive to achieve.

In conclusion, I would say that the decision to switch to a joint degree ultimately comes down to the decision if you are willing to trade off a course from your current degree for the opportunity to pick a course from a different subject and the positive as well as negative consequences this brings with it. I believe this decision highly depends on your own interests and career goals.

Guest Blog: Upcoming March Highlights Hostility Issues of Brexit

This post is an article written by our guest blogger Rebecka Durén who is a Swedish journalism student at Newcastle University. Rebecka has interviewed students as well as Dr Anders Widfeldt who is a professor at University of Aberdeen. This interview was conducted closely after our society held an event with Dr Widfeldt and the Nordic society. Rebecka’s article does not represent the views of the society as we are neutral and do not have an opinion.

As  the upcoming People’s Vote march raises unsolved issues of the Brexit negotiations, many Swedish residents are increasingly worried about their ability to stay and continue their studies or work in the UK. Many report even having experienced hostility since the vote to leave in 2016.

Since the details surrounding the deal are still unclear, the potential consequences of what leaving the EU might mean for Swedish residents in the UK is something that is frequently discussed in forums and Facebook-groups. People are asking about their children’s right to stay, for their ability to continue their studies or what this might mean for their career. 

I applied to my university just after the Brexit vote and I remember feeling disheartened and worried. Now, almost two years in, those feelings are as strong as ever and I feel uncertain about any prospects of continuing my career in the UK. Speaking to other Swedish students in the UK a lot of them seem to relate to these worries.

Mitali Singh, a second year law student at the University of Sussex, says she knows a lot of students are frustrated about the vote to leave and the consequences it has left its young voters with. Singh also said she believes that many will choose to move somewhere else to study and pursue a career. 

“London won’t be seen as the international hub as it is seen as today. Working there used to mean you can work anywhere, and I don’t think it will be like that anymore.”

There have even been instances where discriminating comments have been reported from Swedes living around the UK, seemingly as a result of Brexit. Sara*, a mother living in North Yorkshire describes how a man told her to “fuck back off to her own country” when he heard her speaking Swedish to her daughter.

“When I defended myself he started getting out of his car to ‘teach me a lesson’.” she added.

Christine Nilsson Liddle living in Berkshire said: “I had never experienced xenophobia directed at me until the day after the Brexit vote, when I was told off with a number of swearwords to learn the language or get out of here”.

Teaming up with the Independent’s campaign Final SayPeople’s Vote aims to ‘make political leaders sit up and take notice’ according to their website. The march wants to prevent the UK leaving the EU as they believe it would ‘make our country poorer, trash our vital public services and wreck the life chances of the young’. 

Dr Anders Widfeldt, a Swedish lecturer in Nordic Politics at the University of Aberdeen stated that UK leaving the EU could result in political instability for Sweden.

“Sweden and Britain have often worked together in the EU on budgets and other things, so Sweden will lose an ally here that could affect the whole power structure in the EU, and not for the better.”

*Sara did not want her surname to appear in the article.

The original article written by Rebecka can be found here

Welcome back!

The first month of university has flown by, and the PIR committee has been busy preparing a lot of events for this year.

We started the semester off by having our annual Wine and Cheese night at the Bobbin after a short presentation introducing the society and it’s committee. It was a great chance for both old members to meet up as well as for people who were interested in joining the society to get to meet new people.

In the first week of lectures we then had our freshers pub crawl which was a very exciting night! We met up in Vodka Revolution where we split up into groups to roam the bars, pubs and streets of Aberdeen. This night was an amazing opportunity to have a fun night out with friends but also to get to know fellow members in a very enjoyable atmosphere. The night came to a close in Underground and we hope that everyone who attended enjoyed the pub crawl as much as we did!

Last week we had an event on the 21st of September which is also the International Day of Peace. We had an interesting lecture by our guest speaker Dr Ilia Xypolia who spoke about human rights and contemporary peace building. Those who wanted then went to the Bobbin to further discuss these topics and to socialize.

We have had a very successful Games night at the Bobbin with a great turnout. We played games such as card games, Jenga, The voting game and Cards against humanity. There were a lot of new faces as well as regular members.

At our combined EGM  and Trip info session our Travel Coordinator Jaeden spoke about the trips that we are organizing this year to Poland in January, and to South Korea in April. Afterwards we had our EGM where we voted for a new First Year Representative and Treasurer and we are very pleased to welcome Martin and Lisa to our committee. We will be having a trip sign up this  month so follow us on social media to stay up to date.

We have some super fun events planned for the upcoming month, starting with a white t-shirt pub crawl October 2nd and a co-host with the Nordic society on the 9th.

We look forward to another amazing year with the PIR society, and hope that you all have had a great start of the new school year!