Our Election, Brexit, and Going Forward

"Vote Here/Vote Aqui" sign in Orlando, Florida - 2008. Image Credit:  Erik (HASH) Hershman  via  Flickr   CC

"Vote Here/Vote Aqui" sign in Orlando, Florida - 2008. Image Credit: Erik (HASH) Hershman via Flickr CC

     So it all comes down to this. After arguably the most bruising, unconventional, and wild political campaign in American history, we are finally at the moment when we choose our next president.

     To be honest, it has been tough to get my head around it all, with so many twists and turns, ups and downs, allegations and innuendo being thrown around, facts and falsehoods being spouted about, claims and counter-claims being made, and just generally, the anxiety over the whole affair.

     As it stands, the choices we face as a country are both unpopular and with unprecedented high negative ratings. For many of us, the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is one we would rather not have, for neither has been particularly inspiring and they both have heavy amounts of baggage – the contents of which have been exposed for us to see.

     Nevertheless, that’s those are choices we have and a choice must be made, for this election has come down to a referendum on the future – about what kind of country and society we wish to be, much like the UK’s referendum on the EU in June. Indeed, much commentary has been written and discussed about that referendum and what happened there in relation to our election. There are differences to be sure, but just as our election has pitted the wild card Trump against the more seasoned Clinton, the EU referendum pitted the unknowns of Britain leaving the EU against the what was known about staying in – in other words, the relative status quo vs a desired yet ill-defined change.

     What ought to be clear is that vast swathes of the people in both countries are not satisfied at all with where they are in their lives and with the state of our countries. There is the sense that the establishment has been failing them for years with policies appearing to benefit only those who are ingratiated with the system, such as the politicians, their families, wealthy campaign donors, corporate and other special interests, and just about anyone with inside connections to give them a leg up over everyone else.

     Along with the effects of 2007-2008 financial crisis, there have been the issues - repeated throughout the Western world - of globalization and how many people have been left behind as a result of it, changing economies and demographics which have clashed with the traditional structures and assurances of societies, and a general sense of uneasiness and the feeling that things are going downhill in many ways. Frustration with the status quo has allowed for the rise populism, which has fueled Trump in America and Brexit in Britain.

     That decision for Britain to leave the EU was a shock to everyone because it was figured that given the given the stark choice between the known and the unknown, Britons would stick with what they knew as a future in Europe as opposed to the unknowns outside of it. When the vote came, a slight majority of Britons decided that whatever unknowns there were outside the EU, they were worth it in the belief that the fortunes for themselves and the UK were better off outside.

     The mistake that some of the pro-EU campaigners made leading up to last June’s referendum was that they focused too much on the negatives of leaving, rather than the positives of staying, just as those advocating keeping the UK together during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum were criticized for accentuating the downsides of separation in order to get the people to vote “No”. This resulted in the “Yes” vote for separation being much higher than anticipated as the separatist campaign – appealing to positive platitudes if not solid facts – made inroads particularly among the working classes who felt they little to lose in choosing separation. Two years later, the Brexit campaigners did much of the same thing by portraying themselves as having new and bold solutions, as opposed to the stale answers offered up by the establishment. Similarly, a significant chunk of the American electorate appears prepared to risk uncertainty with Trump rather than go with what they know (and probably dislike more) about Clinton, who has been touting her experience and readiness for office in contrast to the unpredictability of Trump.

     Whatever happens, it is incumbent on our leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to commit themselves to getting things done for the great good. At everyone’s heart is the desire for a government that works effectively and efficiently, which works in the national interest while engaging with the world. Indeed, there is a lot that needs to be done domestically and internationally, and the people and political leaders must rise to the occasion as we do live in unprecedented times where people’s trust and confidence in government and other institutions are so low.

     This is the landscape facing the victor of the election tonight (or tomorrow) and on top of that, about half of the country not only voted against this person, but probably has a low opinion of them, to say the least. Whoever it is will have to work hard to unite the country as never before and provide answers to legitimate issues raised throughout the course of the campaign.

     As an optimist, I do not believe all will be lost regardless of who wins. Our country has gone through so much in over two centuries of existence, including an all-out civil war and presidential resignation, and we have shown the capacity to not only survive, but go on to be a better country than before. Our Constitution and hard-won democratic institutions are greater than any one person who temporarily occupies them for a few years at the pleasure of the people, and I believe the same to be true of the UK as well.

     That said, the choice we make does matter and I hope that people do consider the future carefully make a wise choice that we can be holistically comfortable with for generations to come.

Rio 2016 and a Salute to Team GB

Andy Murray leading Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland into Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony for Rio 2016. Image Source:  Agência Brasil  via  Wikimedia Commons   cc

Andy Murray leading Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland into Olympic Stadium for the Opening Ceremony for Rio 2016. Image Source: Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons cc

     Four years ago at the conclusion of the Summer Olympic Games in London, Team GB exceeded all expectations as it won 65 medals, including 29 of them gold and finished number three on the medal table in its best Olympic performance since 1908, when it won a whopping 146 medals (56 gold) while hosting the Games for the first time and finished at the top of the medal table for the first and only time in its history.

     It was all so brilliant as we watched the United Kingdom’s great athletes perform brilliantly and achieve so much for themselves and their country as the host nation in that golden summer, which was made all the more special because it occurred during the Diamond Jubilee year of Her Majesty the Queen, who memorably “parachuted” into Olympic Stadium with James Bond during that spectacular opening ceremony created by Danny Boyle.

     For my part, I watched that ceremony and much of the Games with much interest because of the fact that is was being held in the UK and because of the potential for phenomenal sporting success for the country I had come to love and appreciate over the years. Of course, I was all for Team USA and cheering them on with gusto, but whenever Team GB was not in competition with us, I was rooting for them to win. That summer, I was not disappointed, and nor were the British people, who came together as one and poured out their tremendous support for the home team and helped to motivate them to a stunning performance which impressed many people and hopefully inspired a generation.

     And yet, as impressive as the 2012 medal haul and sporting performance was, expectations were kept in check for the Summer Games this year – not least because they were being held away from the UK, in Rio de Janeiro. On a personal level, I believed that while Team GB would do well enough to get at least 50 or so medals and therefore exceed its last away Games medal tally of 47 (19 gold) at Beijing 2008, they would probably not replicate the London accomplishment. UK Sport, which distributes government and lottery money to various sporting disciplines and individuals for the development of British athletic talent, set more modest expectations by having a target of 48 medals.

     However, this didn’t appear to dampen the spirits of those participating in the Games themselves as they walked with pride into Olympic Stadium lead by defending tennis champion Andy Murray with the Union Flag in hand. Perhaps they knew that achieving the success from four years previously would be difficult to accomplish away from home, but at the same time, they also had a belief in themselves to accomplish something special and knew that their team had been increasing its medal count in each successive Olympics since Atlanta in 1996, when it finished 36th in the medal count with 15 medals (one gold). Indeed, it was the performance from these Games which caused the government to increase funding for athletics in the UK and culminated in the success of London 2012. Now coming off of that, there was at least some expectation that in Rio, Team GB would have its best overseas performance at a summer Olympic Games, if only by a few medals.

     The first few days of competition were a bit slow, with Britain winning one gold medal via swimmer Adam Peaty in the men’s 100m breaststroke and six overall through strong silver and bronze medal performances in swimming, diving, and shooting. Then on Day 5 – August 10th, Team GB doubled its medal haul with two gold medals earned by Joe Clarke in canoeing and the diving duo of Jack Laugher and Chris Mears in the men’s 3m synchronized springboard (Great Britain’s first-ever diving gold), along with four silver medals in cycling, shooting, judo, and gymnastics. Now with 12 medals (three gold), Team GB broke into the top ten at No. 9 and was doing better than at this point in London by three medals.

     Over days 6-8, the trickle of medals from the first few days turned into a stream as Britain came up strong in some of its core disciplines. In cycling, a team consisting of Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny, and Callum Skinner won gold in the men’s team sprint, as did both the men’s and women’s squads for the team pursuit, which featured Sir Bradley Wiggins, Steven Burke, Ed Clancy, and Owain Doull on the men’s team, and Katie Archibald, Elinor Baker, Joanna Rowsell, and Laura Trott on the women’s team. Meanwhile in rowing, more gold came home as Helen Glover and Heather Stanning defended their London title and took the top position in the women’s coxless pair event on the same day as the men’s coxless four team (Alex Gregory, Constantine Louloudis, George Nash, and Mohamed Sbihi) did the same in their event, followed by a British triumph in the men’s eight race. Additionally, ten silver medals and one bronze medal were awarded in rowing, canoeing, rugby sevens, equestrian, gymnastics, athletics, cycling, and swimming.

     Finishing off this round was probably the most spectacular moment of the Games for Britain as Mo Farah competed to defend his title in the men’s 10,000 meter race, during which he became tangled up with another runner and fell on the track, but quickly got up and soldiered on to win the title once again in his signature “Mobot” style to the rapture of the enormous crowd in attendance.

     Day 9 came around on August 14th, and it was here where Britain struck gold in a big way and proved itself worthy among its competitors as a host of individuals massively added to the growing haul.

     Gymnast Max Whitlock earned two gold medals during the men’s floor and pommel horse events (the first Olympic gold’s for Great Britain in gymnastics and the first same-day double gold since Hugh Edwards in 1932), and Justin Rose became the first golfer to win gold in 112 years following the absence of an Olympic golf tournament during that time period. In cycling, Jason Kenny topped the competition during the men’s sprint event and Andy Murray successfully defended his London title to become the first person to win back-to-back Olympic gold in individual tennis. Three more silver medals were won in sailing, gymnastics, and cycling on this day which became known as “Super Sunday” (in reference to the “Super Saturday” four years ago) and marked the point when Team GB – having added eight medals in total – leaped into second place in the medal standings between the United States and China.

     Over the next two days, another 12 medals were added, including four gold’s from equestrian Charlotte Dujardin defending her 2012 title in individual dressage, sailor Giles Scott in the men’s finn race (extending a Team GB winning streak started by Iain Percy in Sydney 2000), and cycling couple Laura Trott and Jason Kenny in the women’s omnium and men’s keirin, respectively. More silver and bronze medals were earned in boxing, gymnastics, cycling, athletics, and diving during those days as well when Team GB smashed its pre-Games target of 48 medals and therefore exceeded its tally at Beijing.

Jade Jones (second from left) alongside her fellow medalists after defending her taekwondo title in the women's 57kg. Image Source:  Mohammad Hassanzadeh/Tasnim News Agency  via  Wikimedia Commons   CC

Jade Jones (second from left) alongside her fellow medalists after defending her taekwondo title in the women's 57kg. Image Source: Mohammad Hassanzadeh/Tasnim News Agency via Wikimedia Commons CC

     This was followed by a no-medals day, but for the final days of competition, Team GB was a medal-winning machine. Alistair Brownlee finished the men’s triathlon with gold, followed by Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills doing the same in the women’s 470 for sailing, Jade Jones defending her title in the women's 57kg for taekwondo and equestrian Nick Skelton came on top in the individual show jumping event. The women’s field hockey team triumphed over the Netherlands to win gold in their sport, along with Liam Heath in canoeing, Nicola Adams in boxing, and Mo Farah finishing out the gold rush by defending his 5000 meter racing title and therefore winning a double-double by defending two titles. Another nine silver and bronze medals were won, including the one bronze impressively earned by the women’s athletics team (Eilidh Doyle, Anyika Onuora, Emily Diamond and Christine Ohuruogu) for the 4X400 meter track relay on August 20th, which took Team GB across its London medal haul of 65, and one silver earned by Joseph Joyce the next day in men’s super heavyweight boxing, which was Team GB’s last Rio medal and brought its final medal tally to 67 – 27 gold, 23 silver, and 17 bronze.

     So Team GB did not replicate their London success; they exceeded it, and in supreme fashion.

     In terms of statistics, the story of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at Rio 2016 is one of exceptional achievement built upon the successes and hard work of the last 20 years since Atlanta 1996. In 19 out of 31 sports, the team medaled and had athletes standing on the podium – a strike rate of 61%, which increases to 76% when the sports they did not contest are stripped out, but even then, Britain still managed to win a gold medal across 15 sports – more than any other country, including the United States, though it won more medals overall in 22 sports.

2016 Rio Summer Olympics Medal Table. Image Credit: Screenshot from the BBC

2016 Rio Summer Olympics Medal Table. Image Credit: Screenshot from the BBC

     In 23 of the 25 sports it participated in, Team GB met or exceeded its medal targets and nine Olympians successfully defended their titles from 2012. Cycling was easily Britain’s most dominant sport with 12 medals won and all 15 members of the track cycling team winning a medal. Here, Jason Kenny became the most successful Briton in Rio, winning three gold’s; his fellow cyclist and fiancée Laura Trott became the most successful British female Olympian in Rio upon taking two gold’s. In both the men’s team pursuit and the men’s team sprint, the track cyclists made it three straight titles for Great Britain. Sir Bradley Wiggins emerged from Rio with eight medals in total throughout his Olympic career, making him the first Briton to do so, and veteran Mark Cavendish won his first-ever medal at these Games.

     Outside of cycling, rowers won their fifth consecutive title in the men’s four and in rowing overall, Team GB topped the standings with three gold medals. Rower Katherine Grainger became the first British woman to win medals at five consecutive games upon winning silver in women’s double sculls and Jessica Ennis-Hill put up a strong performance to finish with a silver in the heptathlon, and even though they came up short defending their London titles, they still represent some of the finest that Britain has to offer and are still winners in many ways. Indeed, Britain was so good in some events, it won multiple medals in the same event, such as when Jonathan Brownlee won silver in the men’s triathlon to follow his gold medal-winning brother, Alistair.

     Other significant achievements were that of gymnast Amy Tinkler winning bronze in the women’s floor exercise as Britain’s youngest Rio Olympian, who at the age of 16, was born at around the same time as when Britain’s oldest Rio Olympian, equestrian Nick Skelton, had broken his neck and went into temporary retirement before winning his first gold this year. Additionally, Bryony Page took silver in trampoline gymnastics and Sophie Hitchon did the same in the hammer throw – becoming the first Britons to do so in those events, and with respect to gymnastics overall, Great Britain came third behind the US and Russia.

     Indeed, far from experiencing a post-2012 dip, Britain became the first country to increase its Olympic medal haul immediately following the summer Games it hosted, it became the second of two nations (Azerbaijan being the other) to consecutively increase the number of medals earned through five Games, and remains the only country to have won gold at every summer Olympics since the inception of the modern Games in 1896.

     This was an astonishing feat by itself, but what made it greater was the fact that with 27 gold medals, Great Britain finished in second place on the medal table, ahead of China, which has grown into be an Olympic powerhouse since its return to the Games in 1984 and topped the medal table when it hosted the Beijing Games in 2008. When Britain did jump to second place and overtook China on August 14th, it was met with a mixture of celebration, amusement, and surprise; many people – even those counted among the biggest Team GB fans – couldn’t believe what had happened and had very reason to believe that China would come back to take second place by the end of the games, after it was expected to win several medals in key areas, such as badminton and table tennis.

     However, as far as I could see, the UK got out in front of China and did not look back – never surrendering the second place spot for the remainder of the Games as China finished with one gold medal less and wound up in third place. Despite having more medals overall at 70 to Britain’s 67, the International Olympic Committee orders medals based on number of gold, silver, and bronze medals, with gold taking first precedence before the others. In fact, Team GB actually had two gold medals less than they did in London, but China had an even steeper dip in its medal count and this helped to upend almost all projections for it going into the Games and placing Britain on top of it. In short, Britain overperformed, China underperformed, and this paved the way for Britain’s most successful non-boycotted Olympics in over a century and may mark its ascension to being a sporting powerhouse in its own right.

Tracking the gold medals for the top five Rio 2016 countries. Image Source:  Ali Zifan  via  Wikimedia Commons   CC

Tracking the gold medals for the top five Rio 2016 countries. Image Source: Ali Zifan via Wikimedia Commons CC

     What was amusing about this development was the response from the Chinese state media, with the English-language Twitter account of the state news agency Xinhua sending out an agitated tweet which said: “You’re kidding me? The country which has never finished above China is about to.” That was deleted, but another tweet vented frustration toward the gymnastics team, saying that they had “suffered the worst Olympic flop.” One person in the CCTV comments section wrote that while he understood that China could not topple the United States, he appeared rankled at the prospect of having to compete with the United Kingdom for second place. Still yet, another state commentator bemoaned in disbelief that their country had fallen behind “a small island country troubled by separatism.”

     However, this attitude was balanced by other voices in the media and public which appeared to be more gracious and even relaxed, with one article in the Global Times suggesting that most people were “unfazed by the sluggish medal winning” and quoted a Beijing sports sociology doctor who said that ‘the time in which we relied on sports to show our strength or prove our reputation is over.’

     That’s a decent attitude to have because after all, the Olympics comes down so often to individual achievement and initiative, because for all the support provided by the government, it is the individual who must decide to put in the time and effort to simply start riding a bike, get in a pool, do some back flips, run some laps, among other things, and for many people, making it to the Games is an achievement by itself and the medals are just the icing on the cake.

     That being said, there is nothing wrong with having patriotic pride in ones national team at the Olympics, so long as it’s not done for reasons of claiming some sort of natural (and race-based) supremacy or looking down on other countries as inherently inferior. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with this in general for much the same reasons, but as we saw with some in Chinese media and public, there was incredulity at the idea of the UK overtaking them in the medal table and references to a “small island country” are reminiscent of an incident at the 2013 G-20 Summit, where a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin reportedly dismissed Britain as a “small island no one listens to.”

     Well, Britain is a small island country, but as I have said in a previous post, it is – and has been – a small island with big influence for various reasons extending beyond Olympics success, and this was on display at “British House” during the Rio Games. Located at Parque Lage near the Christ the Redeemer statue, British House functioned as the UK’s official residence in Rio for the Games and served to showcase the UK in terms of its strengths and abilities in business, culture, innovation, music, arts and sciences, sports, and several other areas to those who may be interested in investing in the country and visiting it. This was also a place to be celebrating British Olympic success, where Sir Chris Hoy, fellow former and current Team GB athletes, and others enjoyed themselves as the Games took their course (and it was here where Andy Murray almost poked Princess Anne with the Union Flag during the team photo-op on the steps to the building).

     It was great to see them having a good time, and just as well, to see the host nation was doing well too. Despite all the problems going into the Games, Rio managed to pull off a rather successful Olympics without serious disruption or issues with regard to its preparedness, and though Brazil sat outside the top ten in the medal count, it did manage to beat both its previous gold and overall medal records. What likely mattered however was having the Games there and watching their best athletes on display on home court. Nowhere was this more evident than in the realm of football (soccer), where Brazilians poured their hearts out for the national team and cheered them on to victory and their first gold medal in that event.

     Meanwhile closer to home, I was very happy to see Team USA perform as well as it did in exemplary fashion – watching the weighty contributions and significant achievements of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky dominating in the swimming pool, Simone Biles making her mark in gymnastics, Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin on the track, and USA basketball dominating on the hardwood for the third straight time. In terms of medals, I was proud for the USA to have won 121 medals (46 gold, 37 silver, and 38 bronze) – the most ever for non-boycotted Games – topping the medal table again for the second consecutive time and the fifth time in the last six games, while leading in the overall medal tally for the sixth straight time.

Michael Phelps and other members of the US Men's 4 x 100m freestyle swimming team after winning gold in Rio. Image Source:   Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil  via  Wikimedia Commons   CC

Michael Phelps and other members of the US Men's 4 x 100m freestyle swimming team after winning gold in Rio. Image Source:  Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil via Wikimedia Commons CC

     However, there was a bit of sadness knowing these would be the last Olympics for the legendary Phelps, who is perhaps the greatest Olympian of all time with an impressive 28 medals (23 gold), as well as for Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, a legend in his own right as the World’s Fastest Man three times in a row. Both men put on spectacular displays and showed a love of country, but within the spirit of good sportsmanship (as seen when Bolt paused an interview during the London Games for the US national anthem), which is the Olympic ideal in many ways.

     Rio 2016 was quite special as an American for what we achieved there, but I also enjoyed watching other countries do very well, especially my second country. Yes, it has been going through a lot – internal and external – over the past few years, but that did not stop it from putting on the very successful London Games and exceeding expectations in the competition. For that matter, we’ve got our own issues in the US that we’re dealing with, but that didn’t stop us from participating in and engaging with these Games. If anything, the Games are an opportunity to shine a bit of color, light, and relief in an increasingly complex and stressed world.

     With regard to the UK this year, it put on a fantastic performance via the efforts of its athletes, and I have to believe that it had to have made people proud to be British because of the effort put forth by these Olympians – so much of it backed by the public at home to help realize their dreams – who represented so many different backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities throughout the United Kingdom and came from all parts of it, showing the power of this Union not only of nations, but of people, which of course belongs to all of them.

     Here at Rio was but a sample of the rich and diverse country that is Britain today, and showing what can be achieved when the British people work together and devote their energies in a collectively great civic and patriotic effort - where resources are pooled and shared effectively to make fantastic things happen. This was seen as the athletes expressed a love of country and exhibited the indomitable British spirit, strength, and character, which is not a mark of national supremacy, but rather an attitude and a way of doing things which has seen the country through and beat expectations time and time again, and surely will see it through going forward in Tokyo and beyond.

     So congratulations to Team GB on a job well done and I hope all Britons may be able to take part in an I Am Team GB event on Saturday and attend the parades that are to come, because the achievements of the UK's Olympians and what it took to become one ought to be commemorated in appropriate fashion throughout the land.

Our Internal Affairs

     Throughout my involvement in the Scottish referendum campaign, there were several times when I was told to stay out of Scotland’s “internal affairs.” Some Nationalists and “Yes” supporters on Facebook and Twitter would say that the referendum vote had nothing to do with me and that – among others things – I should “f**k off” and pay more attention to what’s going on in the United States. Other people were more polite about it – saying that they appreciated my interest, but nonetheless still say that I ought to stay out of their referendum over their future.

     Then when President Obama made his intervention in support of our closest ally to keep itself together, there were many Nats who angrily frothed at the notion of the President of the United States making his views known publicly – at one point, alongside the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron. He too was told to stay out and shut up, and even then-First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond reportedly was upset about the presidential intervention.

     Following the referendum and up to the present, I have still found myself coming into contact with Cybernats telling me that what goes on in Scotland has nothing to do with me and that I should stop commenting and writing articles such this.

     So when I came across yesterday’s article in The Herald that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had endorsed Hillary Clinton to be our next president, my first thought was: well, look who’s commenting on the internal affairs of another country. However, this was not mere commenting on what’s going in America, but openly saying who she would like to see in the White House this time next year, and breaking the diplomatic convention that politicians in one country should not directly comment on foreign elections or endorse candidates in those elections.

     Yet while Sturgeon should have observed this convention (regardless of whether she was prompted by a member of the audience to which she was speaking), I tend to find nothing wrong in general with politicians, other public officials and figures, and private individuals in one country commenting on other major issues and concerns in a other country, especially one that is a close friend and ally.

     Such is the case with the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom that we cannot help but to watch what goes on each other’s country and perhaps have something to say about events which may prove to be quite consequential to the nature of our relationship. It is therefore not surprising that President Obama made an intervention two years ago to keep the UK together, and that he is choosing to speak out in favor of the UK’s membership in the European Union.

     On the other end, it has been David Cameron and other leading British politicians who have voiced their criticism of unspoken and controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Members of Parliament even debated whether Trump ought to have been banned from entering the United Kingdom. Indeed, when Sturgeon was asked whether she would welcome Trump to Scotland if he became president, she did not directly answer the question, but did refer to his views as “abhorrent.” In doing this, she stayed in line with what most politicians were doing – condemning Trump and speaking about the campaign in general terms – but differing by actually making an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

     Even so, she has a right to do this, and if she were a private citizen like most of us, there would be no criticism from me. For my part, it has been an interesting time to observe politics and current events unfold on both sides of the Pond, and being on Twitter and Facebook has helped me to see how many Brits and Americans see each other. From the casual social networkers to the media pundits to the political leaders, just about everyone has something to say about one another’s country and perhaps offer suggestions or thoughts on what it ought to do.

     At times, this gets taken for “lecturing” – as though a person from one country or the other is looking down/talking down to people in the other country from on high. But the reality is this: you can either listen or not; take it or leave it. We have to be grown up about hearing from people who either reside in or are from other countries, and again, especially when that country is a close friend and ally which shares broadly similar customs, values, language, and heritage, and with whom there are strong military, economic, and political ties.

     No one had to listen to me on Twitter and Facebook during the lead-up to the referendum; the people who have supported me and in some cases, have become my friends during and since that time, could have ignored me. The fact that they and so many others have not is an indication that they are at some level interested in what I have to say, just as I am interested in what they have to say.

     In the bigger scheme of things, I seriously doubt anybody changed their minds because of me, but I was at least contented with engaging with people who took me seriously and treated me with respect along the way.

     I got into the referendum and events since because of my respect, appreciation, and love for the United Kingdom and my desire to not see it dissolve and cast into the dispersing winds. I have been sincere in this desire as a private citizen because of my personal affection for the country, its people, its history and heritage, its culture, my concern for its future and where it’s going, and its relationship with my country. In the last four years, I have taken an active interest in what goes on in the UK, with a particular focus on Scotland due to the referendum and since, and now with both countries going through many of the same issues, I do what I can to keep up with the comings-and-going on both sides of the Pond.

     On the other side are many new British friends who take an active interest in what goes on in the United States, not least because of the roller coaster ride that is the presidential election. Many of them have a reciprocal admiration, respect, and love for America, and as they watch developments over here, they have expressed their own concerns about the direction of the country as we go through the primary process and go about choosing a successor to President Obama.

     And I welcome this because after all, we are close allies and friends; we do have a Special Relationship, so it is only natural that we pay attention to each other, for certain events occurring in one country tend to have an effect in the other. For that reason alone, it is right for us – short of public officials making transatlantic endorsements – to comment on what is going on in each other’s country. Speaking for myself as an American, it also makes sense because sometimes, it helps to hear different perspectives from our cousins across the Pond, and there are many who feel the same way in the UK with regard to the US.

     To be clear, our internal affairs are ones which only we can – quite rightly – decide for ourselves at our respective ballot boxes, but with the right tone and in good faith from the perspective of friendship and a genuine interest on the issues at hand, an outside perspective can be warmly received and appreciated. We do not have to agree with each other or come around to the other person’s point of view, but listening and perhaps having a conversation or debate can make us stronger in our beliefs, better informed about the world around us, and feel a sense of mutual respect among each other.

     This I believe is a good thing for everyone. 

     To quote Robert Burns: 

O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!