How politically viable are proposals for an EU immigration ’emergency stop’?

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

Arguably the major stumbling block in Brexit negotiations concerns the relationship between membership of the Single Market, and the acceptance of EU provisions on the free movement of workers. A number of commentators have already analysed the options, and weighed up their feasibility. See for example the blog by Jonathan Portes on this, and a recent FT article. Here’s my take on the question. I pay particular attention to the question of political feasibility – both in terms of the EU’s potential to accept one of these deals, and its marketability to Leave voters concerned about immigration.

As one of the ‘four freedoms’, the movement of workers is generally viewed as a core condition of participation in the Single Market. A number of Member States and the Commission have recently restated their position that the commitment to free movement of workers is a non-negotiable part of Single Market access. This…

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Trump in Mexico

by Mark Aspinwall

Few things have united Mexicans in recent times quite as much as their loathing for the bombastic and grotesque candidate Donald Trump, nor their profound disbelief that their president, Enrique Peña Nieto, could be so foolish as to invite Mr Trump to Mexico.

Their hatred of Mr Trump is well-founded, but they are mistaken to think that by excluding him from participating in face-to-face talks with their president they have somehow defended Mexican interests, or pride.

They have criticized that there was an invitation in the first place, that Peña Nieto did not use the occasion to excoriate Trump, and that to invite the monster into the home was an act of treason, in the words of director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

All three criticisms are poorly conceived. Of course, Peña Nieto could have avoided inviting either candidate, but it’s not uncommon for foreign leaders to meet with US presidential candidates, as Gordon Brown did when UK Prime Minister in 2008. And consider this test – what reaction would Mexicans have given had it been Hillary who visited instead of Trump? Assuming the reaction would have been positive, it’s hard to sustain the argument that campaign invitations are inappropriate.

Did Peña Nieto miss an opportunity to lambast Trump in the joint press conference afterwards? Perhaps his words could have been stronger, but he did lecture Trump at length on the benefits to the relationship for both parties, and the need for cooperation where there are shared challenges. And every notch higher that the rhetoric goes now, so the chances of serious conflict in a Trump presidency later (and perhaps the stronger Trump’s support becomes back home).

The third rationale fails to separate schoolyard taunts from the need to deal with foreign leaders whose values and practices affect us (or may affect us). There is a difference between the person and the office. American diplomats know this, but most Mexicans, with little knowledge of or experience in the wider world, have yet to discover it. They can only discern the words.

There are leaders in the world whose records of human rights abuses and interference in their neighbors’ affairs are outrageous. Most of them do not taunt us openly. Does that make them acceptable? We can reject their actions – and should – at the same time that we work to change their regimes (and promote our own national interests). Statecraft requires action, and that leaders interact.

To put this more concretely, imagine a national leader somewhere in Central America whose treatment of indigenous groups violated human rights standards and potentially threatened regional stability – but who spoke kindly about Mexico. Would this person be welcome in Mexico because they said nice things?

Mexico is treading a fine line – it has deep interests at stake in the outcome of the US election, and it needs to make that clear, while at the same time not interfering in the electoral process. In the longer run there is an urgent need to promote Mexican interests and image in the US.

There are two Mexicos – the educated, cosmopolitan, and internationally-connected one, and the one which is traditional, hidebound, and parochial. One accepts that Mexico has responsibilities and opportunities in the world, and the other one still has its head in the sand. One takes seriously the need to promote and protect Mexican interests, and the other would shut its eyes and hope for the best.

Social Media: Enhancing teaching & building community?


by Gareth James

The 2016 Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme (PTAS) forum – Rethinking Learning and Teaching Together – took place this week, during which we enjoyed some inspiring keynotes, interesting presentations and stimulating discussion on developing our teaching practices and improving learning experiences at the University. You can read a live blog of the forum, written by Nicola Osborne (a.k.a. @suchprettyeyes), here.

The aim of our PTAS-funded project was to comparatively assess the effectiveness of Twitter and Facebook in engaging students in their course material, while also strengthening links between students and staff in the Politics and IR subject area. We compared the experiences of Facebook groups, as used by Luke March in the teaching of Russian Politics, and Twitter, as used by Sara Dorman and Gareth James in the teaching of African Politics. In the five undergraduate and postgraduate courses we covered, social media was used in addition to the provision of a Learn page for each.

Social Media is fast becoming a ‘normal’ part of student life, with some students anecdotally expressing a preference for Facebook over Learn forums. Universities and academics are also increasingly using social media to keep staff, colleagues and students informed on the latest research, news and events in their subject areas (Blair, 2013; Graham, 2014). The @EdinburghUni and @EdinburghPIR accounts on Twitter are prime examples of this. For lecturers and tutors, it is also easier to tweet a link – to course documents or other materials – than to set-up a hyperlink across multiple courses in Learn. Politics and IR also has a large student cohort and students have expressed a desire for more community and connectedness with ‘their’ subject area. Social media could therefore be important as a potential way of both building community and adding value to our academic offerings.

We particularly wanted to know whether and to what extent social media helps to mediate the relationship between students’ learning experiences and their desire for ‘more community’, and to what extent this complements or conflicts with the use of a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), like Learn. Does social media enable students to stay informed and participate in debates? Does it make them feel more included and valued? Does it complement VLEs or risk duplicating existing provision? Which medium is best for achieving our goals and are there any downsides to these approaches? To answer these questions, we collected data from 70 undergraduate and postgraduate students via a short questionnaire and three focus groups.


Our data showed that 80% of those who responded said they were aware of our use of social media in the teaching of these courses. When asked how often they used the resource, 70% said they used it at least once and some 40% said they used it on a regular basis i.e. daily or weekly. When asked about the usefulness of each, almost 60% of those using Facebook said it was useful, compared to only one-third of Twitter users. In fact, Twitter users were 10 times more likely to respond with ‘not useful’. These findings echo those of other studies that show Facebook is more popular among students than Twitter (Graham, 2014). That said, almost 46% of our respondents found the course social media useful to some degree, but this was further qualified by students in both their questionnaire responses and during our focus groups.

The focus groups taught us that students do appreciate the potential for sharing resources and staying informed, although sometimes they fail to see the relevance to the course itself. ‘Twitter was useful for flagging up articles or news stories that I might not have heard of, because it’s not easily accessible [African Politics]. It’s not always in the news that often’, said one undergraduate student. Another said, ‘In terms of directly relating to the course, it [Facebook] wasn’t the most helpful thing in the world – it was kind of more like the icing than the cake’. It is clear that social media has huge potential for exposing students to multiple sources of information and different conceptions of knowledge, but some scholars have expressed concerns about the quality of information and students’ lack of critical analytical skills in deciphering the good from the bad (Whitworth, 2009; Thornton, 2010, 2012; in Blair,2013).

We also learned that students mostly appear to recognise the potential for debate, but they complain that it tends not to happen; and when it does, they find it intimidating if it is open to ‘real’ academics and/or professionals. One student told us, ‘As an undergraduate, I don’t feel qualified to comment [in online debates] because you might make a mistake, or you might not understand everything that’s going on’. To our surprise, there were many students who felt this way, using words like ‘intimidated’, ‘unqualified’, ‘unsure’, and ‘inadequate’ to describe themselves and/or their feelings about engaging in discussion online. Middleton recognises this when he writes, ‘To be the first to post on a discussion board can be an incredibly intimidating experience’ (2010, p. 7; in Blair, 2013). We thought that students might enjoy being ‘included’ in ‘real world’ debates, but instead it seems that they are wary of commenting too much in ‘public’, instead preferring ‘closed’ forums and discussion among their own classmates. This suggest that we might need to do more to ‘build community’ in order for ‘community building’ tools to really work.

In terms of the comparative effectiveness of each platform for enhancing teaching and building community, Facebook was by far the more popular. Facebook was seen as best for building community, although some found the social-academic distinction confusing. Twitter was considered best for sharing information, but was described as too ‘noisy’, indicating a real danger of information overload (Thornton, 2010; in Blair, 2013). Learn was seen as the most ‘academic’ and ‘safe’, but is perceived as too ‘clunky’ to navigate and for effective course discussion. Indeed, one student commented that “If Learn worked like Facebook, I’d use it”. Clearly each platform has its advantages and disadvantages, and there is a continuing problem of lack of integration between Facebook, Twitter and Learn.

Our findings therefore tell a mixed story, but overall the data suggest less enthusiasm for social media use in teaching than was anticipated. While there is no need to rush into using more social media in teaching, we still think that there are clear benefits for areas like African Politics, that are fast changing and not well-covered in the mainstream media. For lecturers we restate the benefits of time and effort-saving across platforms, but our idea that students might enjoy being more included in wider debates was clearly not carried through. However, it would be interesting to see if and how this might differ in other courses on issues like #indyref or #euref, or just Scottish/British politics more generally. Colleagues in Politics and IR are also considering using social media in a course on the US presidential elections in 2016/17, and it would be interesting to see if students are more engaged in these issues which are covered more frequently in the mainstream media.


Blair, A. (2013). Democratising the Learning Process: The Use of Twitter in the Teaching of Politics and International Relations. Politics, Vol. 33(2), pp. 135-145.

Graham, M. (2014). Social Media as a Tool for Increased Student Participation and Engagement. Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, Vol. 2(3), pp. 16-24.

Pro-Leave proposals on immigration risk creating wide scale irregular migration

Politics, Knowledge & Migration

One of the more curious features of the EU referendum campaign is how the Leave campaign has positioned itself on immigration. The attempt to mobilise support for Brexit by tapping – and revving up – fears about immigration has been widely discussed. But more intriguing are the various attempts by pro-Leavers to sketch out a post-Brexit immigration policy. And the ideas here have been surprisingly progressive; but, as I shall suggest, likely to yield a range of inadvertent effects. Let’s deal with each in turn.

1. First the Leave campaign launched a proposal for a post-Brexit ‘Australian-style’ points system. This was touted as an alternative to the currently ‘uncontrolled’ EU immigration. The idea is that a future UK government could choose exactly which (high-skilled, presumably) immigrants to admit. It was an odd suggestion, given that we already do have a points system in the UK: Tier 1 of the current system allows…

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#thisflag and the power of nationalism in Zimbabwe

by Sara Rich DormanSara cropped 2

Pastor Evan Mawarire’s #thisflag movement has captured Zimbabwe’s social media as well as its airwaves. Voicing his dismay with the state of Zimbabwe he has reclaimed the language of nationalism for ordinary Zimbabweans. A few years ago, when vendors on the streets were selling Zimbabwean flags for car windows, I shocked a friend by asking to stop and buy one –only ZANU(PF) stalwarts openly brandished this supposedly national symbol.


Flag TwoIt’s not that attempts haven’t been made before to reclaim these ‘national’ images.   My favourite is the flag of Zimbabwe turned into a cross, carried by pastors in a national demonstration in 2005.Also in 2005, two little booklets of writing under the pseudonym ‘Magari Mndebvu’ circulated, one entitled ‘Beautiful Zimbabwe’ with a cover picture of the stone ‘Zimbabwe Bird’ national emblem and the other showing the flag and the balancing rocks with the title ‘Pamberi ne Zimbaber’ (Forward with Zimbabwe).

But these are exceptions. Most civic groups chose relatively ‘neutral’ symbols, Flag onesuch as the outline of the country or the balancing rocks in logos and posters. Challenging the capture of Zimbabwe’s national symbols by ZANU(PF) was not a popular choice. In analysing this failure on the part of academic and civic actors to articulate a convincing alternative account of Zimbabwean citizenship, Miles Tendi speaks of Zimbabwe’s intellectual space having been ‘ceded’ to the nationalist public intellectuals.

Why did this happen? In 2004, the eminent historian Terence Ranger coined the term ‘patriotic history’ to encompass the way in which the ZANU regime had marshalled the education system, the media, and other institutions to promote a narrowly ‘patriotic’ account of Zimbabwean history. But for Zimbabwe’s first two decades of politics, overt ‘nationalism’ was not much in evidence. The most common public discourses were of ‘development’ and ‘unity’. I’m not suggesting that people weren’t nationalists, nor that they weren’t patriots, but justifications for policies consistently hinged on ‘development’. In newspaper headlines, public speeches, and publications every group from teachers to churches to farmers was told to be ‘united’ in order to bring development.

Formally nationalist iconography was muted. Of course, provinces, cities and streets were renamed, Heroes Acres built, new holidays replaced Rhodesian ones, and statues were removed but proposals to bring in national service or national dress were never carried through.   The stamps issued on 18 April 1980 to commemorate Zimbabwe’s independence depicted minerals, animals and waterfalls. As far as I can see, the first stamps to commemorate Zimbabwe’s nationalists were issued in 1984, on the first Heroes’ Days.   Although education was a huge priority for the new government, curriculum reform – intended to include national unity, patriotism, civics and local history – was delayed and neglected. Only last year was it mooted that KGVI barracks might be renamed after Josiah Tongogara, commander of the ZANLA guerrilla army. What is striking about this is less the decision to honour Tongogara – a key rival of President Mugabe – and more that a high profile army barrack had continued to be named for a British Monarch more than 30 years after Zimbabwe became a republic and 12 years after it had withdrawn from the Commonwealth.

How do we explain this paradox? In my book, which is published later this year, I argue that not only was nationalism was sublimated to development, but also that society was demobilized. This was in part because of the demands of the Lancaster House agreement – the new government needed to balance competing demands from old allies and old enemies alike. But it was also because retaining a mobilized society risked opening up debates about nationalism – about the kind of country that people had fought for, about the sacrifices and injustices that had occurred during the war, and the divides that existed within as well as between nationalist movements.

This helps explain why peasants who scrambled on to land were frequently removed; why war veterans weren’t allowed to form their own representative organization, and why churches, unions, and civic groups were sternly marshalled into place. But this depoliticization also made it very difficult for alternatives to be articulated. The NCA broke some barriers by ‘talking about politics without being political’. But the real shift came after the government lost the Constitutional referendum in February 2000, and we saw the remobilization of the war veterans, the introduction of the ‘green bombers’, and militias like Chipangano.

Ironically, it’s that remobilization of pro-ZANU groups that has created the space for the remobilization and reclaiming of national symbols by Pastor Evan. Capturing the dismay and disaffection with political parties, #thisflag brings together the apolitical, the party stalwarts and the activists who backed both Itai Dzamara’s attempt to reclaim Africa Unity Square and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA)’s public protests. While there have been protests, marches, and days of prayer in the past, through social media #thisflag seems to have reached a wider and broader audience.

Zimbabwe’s re-mobilized political sphere is fragile and potentially unstable. It remains to be seen how, if at all, #thisflag will move beyond the internet. But, the sheer jubilation with which Zimbabweans have greeted the re-opening of this debate and reclaimed the mantle of their nation is astonishing.

This blogpost originally appeared on Democracy in Africa; we carefully acknowledge their permission to reblog it here. 

Is it really that difficult to find women to talk about the EU Referendum? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

Gender Politics at Edinburgh

The significant absence of expert women’s voices from media debates and academic events related to the EU Referendum has been widely reported. PSA Women and Politics members Roberta Guerrina, Toni Haastrup, Katharine Wright share a list of women EU experts and argue there are in fact many women voices on these issues and they are not difficult to find. More work […]

via Is it really that difficult to find women to talk about the EU Referendum? — UK PSA Women & Politics Specialist Group

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Nil, Nada, Zilch: The Change in Women’s Representation in 2016

Gender Politics at Edinburgh

At the start of the Scottish Parliament election campaign, it seemed that the tide had finally turned for women’s representation. In the end, however, only 45 women MSPs (35%) have been elected to the fifth Scottish Parliament, the same number as in 2011. Meryl Kenny, Fiona Mackay and Cera Murtagh put these disappointing results in context, evaluating candidate and electoral trends, and argue that tough action is needed in the form of legislative gender quotas in order to ensure real change. 

Some months ago, we asked whether the tide had turned for women’s political representation in Scotland. The past two years had ushered in a step-change not only from the top down – evidenced in the ‘female face’ of political leadership in Scotland – but also from the bottom up, through the civic awakening that had accompanied the referendum and the surge in women’s grassroots activism through groups…

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