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Scotland will be voting in just eight months time on whether to maintain or dissolve the Union.  There has been much speculation about the result.  But remarkably little of it has investigated the lessons we can draw from past referendums in the UK and around the world.  In this post, Reading politics lecturer Alan Renwick explores the evidence.

Do we know what the outcome of this year’s Scottish independence referendum will be?  The polls have been remarkably stable for months, suggesting something like a 60:40 split in favour of maintaining the Union.  Leading commentators, however, continue to urge caution in calling the result.  Andrew Marr’s answer to the question of whether Scottish voters will opt for separation is “They micht.”  The leading political scientist and BBC elections pundit Professor John Curtice says “the polls may not have moved much so far.  But the important arguments and debates that will take place in the next 12 months could still make a difference.”

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The University of Reading Graduate School and the Department of Politics and International Relations hosted a very special seminar on October 23rd to discuss the impact of economics on US strategic options – an event whose topicality was emphasized by the recent partial shutdown of the US federal government.  The seminar was organized by our PhD student Mark Jakeman, who did excellent work to bring together a collection of leading speakers in this area.  In the paragraphs that follow, Mark reports on the discussion that unfolded.

The relationship between economics and grand strategy cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries and therefore sometimes gets neglected.  Yet it is among the most important relationships for us to understand.  An enthusiastic audience gathered for this seminar, including members of the faculty as well as PhD Students from Reading, Exeter and Kent.  We heard four expert speakers give their views on how current economic issues facing the US, together with likely future developments, would affect America’s position in the international system.

Left to right: seminar organizer Mark Jakeman and speakers Nicholas Kitchen, Iwan Morgan, Sandford G. Henry, and Darren Perdue.

Left to right: seminar organizer Mark Jakeman and speakers Nicholas Kitchen, Iwan Morgan, Sandford G. Henry, and Darren Perdue.

Dr Nicholas Kitchen from the London School of Economics opened the session by explaining the importance of the role of capitalism as a constituent of US identity and as a driving force in the evolution of US foreign policy. He also discussed the changing nature of economic power in a more integrated and globalised world and warned against an uncritical acceptance of the popular narrative of American declinism.

Professor Iwan Morgan from University College London spoke in depth about the US debt and deficit with a detailed account of the US financial situation since the First World War. He explained the building pressures of entitlement programmes such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the “baby boomer” generation retires. He also discussed the difficult choices that will have to be made by the US government by the middle of the 21st Century regarding monetary and fiscal discipline and the impact they will have on US international relations and foreign and defence policy.

Sanford G. Henry from Chatham House struck an optimistic note whilst acknowledging the current difficulties faced by the US. He felt that a more flexible economic environment in the US together with technological advances driven by American innovation and the establishment of a new generation of trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership would create the framework for a resurgence of US prosperity. This would allow America to grow out of its current economic constraints.

Darren Perdue from the US Embassy in London spoke frankly about the challenges America faced but was confident that with a combination of immigration reform, improved education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and modern trade agreements which opened markets and protected the intellectual property rights (IPR) of US companies, America would continue to be the leading force in the global economy.

The discussion which followed the presentations was lively and robust. The audience showed a deep understanding of the topic and were eager to challenge some of the speakers’ assumptions and reassess parts of the evidence they presented. Question topics included the nature of international power, the development of US strategy, the possibility of US immigration reform, the proper scope and scale of IPR in the developing world, the flexibility of future capital markets, the relationship of trade to military power and the relationship between Chinese prosperity, its military capability and US strategic options.

The Department of Politics and International Relations is deeply grateful to all the participants at the seminar and, especially, to Mark Jakeman for organizing it so skilfully.

Our PhD student Corinne Heaven is researching the politics of UN fact-finding missions.  Recent events in Syria have pushed such missions to the very top of the world political agenda.  In a new post on the Global Policy Journal blog, Corinne draws on this expertise to argue that the work of the UN inspection team in Syria may ultimately serve to strengthen the role of the United Nations.

To read her post, go here: http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/17/09/2013/shadow-iraq-syria-inspection-teams-and-new-powers-united-nations.

A special colloquium on the current situation in Syria will be held at the University of Reading on 4th October.  The event, organized by our PhD students, will include contributions from both staff and students.  Full details are available on the colloquium website: http://syriacolloquium.blogspot.co.uk/.

The June protests in Istanbul may have faded from the headlines, but their consequences are still unfolding.  And those consequences could be very serious for the future of Turkish democracy.  In a new post on the Open Democracy blog, Reading International Relations lecturer Burak Kadercan analyses the situation today and assess the opportunities and dangers that Turkey will face in the months to come.

For the global media what happened in Gezi Park throughout June is now old news. Not so much for the citizens of Turkey. Gezi still remains the single most salient reference point for politics and, more than ever, everyday life. Make no mistake, post-Gezi, the genie is out of the bottle and not only refuses to return, but also cannot be fully contained by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP.

To read further, go here.

Alan Renwick

There is much justified indignation in the newspapers this morning about yesterday’s announcement of thirty new members of the House of Lords.  Yet such indignation is curious when it comes from papers that campaigned vociferously against the government’s proposals for reforming the Lords last year.  The new appointments highlight again the fact that the current make-up of our second chamber is indefensible.  A gradual process of change to something more credible is badly needed.

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Are you just about to start Part 3? Wondering what modules to choose and when to start working seriously on your dissertation? Having just received their results, some of our best finalists offer their top tips:

 

  1. Start your dissertation early. Coralie Frost says “Start your dissertation in the summer and aim to come back to University with at least a thousand words.  It will be easier to pick up and start again amid all the other work in 3rd year! Your dissertation is the biggest part of the final year so if you start it early you can make contacts to interview from the topic and have a greater insight and unique research.”
  2. Listen to your dissertation supervisor. Conor Monk stresses the importance of “staying in contact with your dissertation tutor and heeding their advice. This is made a lot easier by starting your dissertation early enough to be able to submit a draft chapter.”
  3. UoR blog - Coralie and ConorPick modules carefully. Yanos Soubieski says “It is important that you take the time out before choosing your final year modules to consider what aspects of politics interest you most, and choose the modules which cater to those interests. Providing you are disciplined in your writing and research, doing essays you genuinely have an interest in can prove to be a good way to achieving high marks in specific modules.”
  4. Become an expert. Yanos adds “once you have chosen your modules, a good practice would be to choose 4 or 5 topics within that module which you will dedicate your time to understanding thoroughly. This should place you in good stead for the essays and examinations when the time comes. Indeed it ought to be noted that examinations will demand that you are comfortable to discuss more topics than those covered by your essays alone.”
  5. Plan ahead. Sam Flint says “Give yourself plenty of time when doing essays as you’ll often remember other things to add after you may have thought you were already finished. A refreshed perspective really helped me improve my work.”
  6. Proof read essays. Conor suggests “Make sure there is time to proof-read, for essays and most importantly the dissertation. The number of mistakes I was able to catch by taking the time to proof-read, especially with my dissertation, was amazing. You can get such a big pay off, for a little extra time.”
  7. Edit. Sam saysEnsure you know how to check your word count accurately!” Don’t throw away marks unnecessarily.
  8. Use your time wisely. Sam says “You don’t need to read every word of a text. Skim reading and finding the key sections you need saves valuable time… Use bibliographies from other authors to search out new material and improve your own research beyond given readings lists.”
  9. Act on feedback. Lloyd Barthropp adds “Use disappointing marks as an opportunity to critically analyse and improve your essay-writing technique, in so doing hopefully raising your grades. Stay positive under pressure.”
  10. Explore. Yanos says “Books and articles are essential to any good essay or revision notes. There are, however, useful sources in media outlets like iTunes and YouTube, which in my experience can prove to be incredibly helpful. An example of this is to listen to (or watch) lectures by the very people who wrote the chapters on your reading list. That is not to say these alternative sources can substitute doing the reading; instead these can be used as additional sources on top of the reading, or indeed as succinct introductions to the material you will have to cover.”
  11. Focus. Sam says “I found working in the library was best as there were fewer distractions, resources were to hand and it separated my work from my home life ensuring I was more relaxed at my uni house. Find a quiet place that works for you.
  12. Revise effectively. Coralie suggests, “Make a HUGE diagram of everything you know for a topic then look away and write down everything you remember.  It can build your confidence and show gaps in your knowledge… In my final year I also started using the ‘loci method’ and other mnemonic devices to remember names for essays.  You put names in relation to each other in a kind of story (normally 5 lines with 10 different names).  For example, a section of a story I used for remembering theorists for Modern International Relations which I still remember today is ‘When waltzing down the lane they were hunted’ – WALTZ, LAYNE, HUNTINGDON.  Don’t knock it until you have tried it!”
  13. Revise with a friend! Josh Wells says “find a study buddy who does the same modules as you but has different interest areas. For example, in UKP, Yanos and I revised together, but we did our essays on different subject areas, so we revised by teaching our areas of knowledge to each other. This helps utilize time in a cramped revision schedule. Without that I am sure that I wouldn’t have done as well.”
  14. …and relax! Josh says “make sure you have a bit of a break over Christmas or you will be in danger of burning out before your exams. The period of time from January to May was the most intense of my life. It’s important to save some mental energy for that period of time.”

 

As street protests in Turkey continue, and the government’s response has begun to harden, many are now talking about a coming ‘Turkish spring’. Reading International Relations lecturer Burak Kadercan warns here against such an analysis of these events, arguing that the protestors have no collective vision of change, and that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains a relatively popular leader. He writes that if the ruling AKP party is able to mobilise thousands of its supporters against the protestors we may well see the onset of full-blown authoritarianism and civil strife.

“What is happening in Turkey?” is a popular question these days, but it is the wrong one, for something has been happening in Turkey for quite some time. What the world has come to see lately is not the problem, but its symptoms. The symptoms are the country-wide protests and accompanying police brutality, which itself has come to be defined in terms of tear gas (or, simply “gas” in the Turkish lexicon). The problem is the increasing autocratic tendencies of Turkey’s ruling party of over 10 years (AKP), which are epitomized in the personal style of its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

You may think that the protests in Turkey point towards the coming of a Turkish Spring. You would be wrong. Unless the government chooses wisely, however, we may be looking at the beginning of a long and harsh Turkish Winter. The protests unleashed an energy that cannot be undone but have yet to spread to the broader population. AKP has a long record of not backing down in the face of criticism. The demonstrators claim themselves to be an unstoppable force and the government, drawing upon its large support base (1 in every 2 votes according to 2011 elections), acts like an immovable object. These are not compatible philosophies and their clash may trigger a process that will then have dramatic consequences for Turkish democracy.

This article was originally published on the LSE’s Europp blog.  For the rest of the post, please go to http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2013/06/13/turkish-winter/.

Much has been said about spoilt ballots in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, but no one has thoroughly analysed the evidence.  In this post, Alan Renwick, Reader in Comparative Politics at the University of Reading, goes through the data that are available.  He finds that there is evidence of more deliberate spoiling of ballots than usual, but the extent of this was limited.  The main story of the election is low turnout, not high spoiling.

One of the talking points surrounding the Police and Crime Commissioner elections has been the number of spoilt ballot papers.  Many observers at the 41 counts around England and Wales saw ballots with mini-essays on them, rather than votes.  The perception is that some voters expressed their disagreement with the idea of politicizing the police by deliberately casting an invalid vote.

But there are always a few voters who purposefully spoil their ballots and others who do so by mistake.  To see whether there is anything unusual about this election, we need precise numbers.  Unfortunately, these have not been easy to come by.  There is no official agency that gathers information on results across the country.  The closest we have to that is the BBC, but the BBC has published results that exclude rejected votes.  The only way the ordinary citizen can find out about spoilt ballots is to go to the website of each of the 41 local authorities responsible for organizing the counts and check their numbers.

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Reading Politics PhD student Ben Whitham here analyses the sentencing of boat race protester Trenton Oldfield and what it tells us about the politics of class and the pathologies of liberal tolerance.

On Friday, Trenton Oldfield, the man who dived into the Thames to disrupt the 2012 Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, was sentenced to six months in jail. Judge Anne Molyneux noted with particular disdain the fact that Oldfield  had been smiling in court throughout her description of his actions, though, as the Telegraph gleefully notes, when the sentence was read out ‘he looked stunned and slowly shook his head from side to side’. The Sun and the Express were also pleased to see the ‘smirk’ wiped from Oldfield’s proverbial boat race. [1]

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Alan Renwick

Iceland held a referendum over the weekend on the reform of its constitution.  The results are now in and show strong public support for change.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that change will actually happen, as, under Iceland’s existing constitution, the referendum result is only advisory.  If constitutional reform is actually to take place, Iceland’s parliament will have to vote for it before the next election (due next spring) and then vote for it again after the election.  Still, there is much interesting material for us to chew over in the outcome of the popular vote.

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