Ian Higham and leading Democrats speak at the Human Rights Conference in Gothenburg

Our consultant Ian Higham spoke on LGBTQ rights in the United States on a panel at the Human Rights Conference in Gothenburg, held in conjunction with EuroPride 2018. The panel was organized by Democrats Abroad Sweden, where Ian is on the Stockholm steering committee.

Ian participated in a panel with Martha McDevitt-Pugh, a member of the Democratic National Committee, that was moderated by Maria Sjödin, Deputy Director of Outright Action International in New York. Ian and Martha spoke about what is at stake for LGBTQ Americans in the November 2018 US midterm elections and why Democrats Abroad is actively encouraging expats to vote. Most Americans do not know that there are no federal protections for LGBTQ Americans in the workplace or when accessing services. Moreover, many American expats would not be able to bring their spouses or partners to the United States if recent Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality are overturned by a new Supreme Court Justice.

In addition to his work at Crimson Clarke and his involvement with Democrats Abroad, Ian is a PhD candidate studying business and human rights issues, with a background in corporate social responsibility and socially responsible investment.

Ian's Insights: What's next for Catalonia?

Ian Higham is a consultant at Crimson Clarke and is currently pursuing a doctorate in political science at Stockholm University. This is the second article in the series Ian's Insights. 

In the past week, the headlines have been dominated by competing narratives of the Catalonian independence movement. Madrid resorted to extreme measures by sending security forces to stop a referendum from taking place on 1 October. The Spanish government maintains that the vote is illegal; indeed, the Constitutional Court ruled that the vote could not take place. Catalan leadership believes that the use of security to suppress democracy evokes Franco-era repression.

Whether or not self-determination is a right, let alone one that can be exercised through a simple majority-rules referendum, there is reason to doubt the democratic legitimacy of this referendum in Catalonia. Surely democracy involves more than a vote: it should include transparency, accountability and reasoned debate.

The government in Madrid has threatened legal action against anyone who facilitates the referendum, such as headmasters keeping schools open for use as polling locations. While thousands of people showed up to vote[1], they are likely to be those strongly committed to the independence movement and unafraid of the legal consequences of political participation. Those loyal to Madrid are more likely to heed the national government’s message to stay home. The results will be inherently skewed toward secession.

The United Kingdom offers two prominent examples on referenda as a tool for deciding on secession: the Scottish vote in 2014 to remain in the United Kingdom, and the British vote to leave the European Union in 2016. We learned in both cases that publics may not be able to make informed decision as they lack sufficient information about a government’s post-referendum action plan. It was unclear as to what portion of government debt Scotland would have had to bear if it had voted to leave the United Kingdom and who would control what resources. It remains unclear what the UK will pay the EU in a so-called “divorce bill” and what the terms of a free trade agreement – if one emerges at all – would be.

Scotland is staunchly pro-EU, and the Brexit result has renewed and strengthened the Scottish independence movement.[2] But the decision to rejoin the EU, as we learned, would not have been Scotland’s. Spain flirted with the idea of blocking EU membership for an independent Scotland precisely because it wanted to deter Catalonia from declaring independence under the pretense of rejoining the EU.[3]

So what would happen to Catalonia? The Spanish state would almost certainly retain its membership in the EU, and the government or Spanish MEPs could potentially block Catalonia from joining the EU as retribution for secession: all current member states and the European Parliament must agree to admit any new member. Considering most Catalan exports are to EU countries – with a staggering 35.5% going solely to the rest of Spain[4] – it would be economically disastrous for the autonomous region to be fully independent without a guarantee of free trade. Spain would also suffer, as Catalonia is its economic powerhouse, representing about 19% of Spanish GDP.[5] Freedom of movement would also be affected: what would happen to the many Spaniards from other regions who have moved to Catalonia to find work? Or Catalans who have relocated to the capital, Madrid? Or the thousands of non-Spanish Europeans residing in the economic hub of Barcelona and retirement communities along the Catalan coast?

The EU has demonstrated little or no support for Catalan independence, mostly standing on the sidelines – just as it did when the Scots held their referendum. This needs to change. Brussels can facilitate the democratic process and ensure peace and prosperity by taking on a more active role in mediating separatist movements in member states. The EU could make clear rules on the means of asserting a right to self-determination, whether through providing guidelines for representative parliamentary procedures, mediating in bilateral negotiations, developing criteria for referenda, or some combination of the three.  The Commission or ECB could provide information for voters, such as economic forecasts for hypothetical post-referendum scenarios. Brussels could also spell out the immediate consequences of secession, such as whether a transition period for leaving the EU would be permitted (i.e. after secession from the member state is complete) and whether special privileges will be granted for the newly independent state to rejoin the EU through fast-track procedures.

Naturally, Spain and – for as long as it remains in the EU, Britain – will be reluctant to allow policymakers in Brussels to write the playbook for secession. But a continent-wide rule that functions as a kind of prenuptial agreement for regions within member states would be in the best interest of everyone in the common market seeking stability and predictability. This will become more important as the EU expands to include historically fractious Balkan states and, maybe one day, Turkey, with its own violent struggle with Kurdish separatists. Clearer rules for secession in one region could also enhance the democratic process for European across the continent: to the extent that secession affects everyone in a common market, unilateral moves for self-determination are democratically problematic.

We live in unpredictable and fast-changing times, and Crimson Clarke can help you demonstrate thought leadership at the European level to ensure that your vision influences the direction of political change. Talk to us today about your strategy for engaging international stakeholders in Europe and beyond!

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/01/world/europe/catalonia-independence-referendum.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/27/nicola-sturgeon-refuses-abandon-indy-ref-2-promises-new-timetable/

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/16/would-spain-block-scottish-membership-of-eu

[4] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/21/heres-how-bad-economically-a-spain-catalonia-split-could-really-be.html

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/21/heres-how-bad-economically-a-spain-catalonia-split-could-really-be.html

Ian's Insights: US healthcare system shake-up

Ian.jpg

Ian Higham is a consultant at Crimson Clarke and is currently pursuing a doctorate in political science at Stockholm University.  

America’s healthcare sector is on the verge of a major shake-up, and it could have wide-ranging ramifications for the global economy. Swedish readers might have missed it, but last week Senator Bernie Sanders published a widely-circulated op-ed[1] in the New York Times advocating “Medicare for All” – a single-payer healthcare system. Sanders made a moral case for providing Medicare – currently a government-run health insurance plan for Americans over age 65 who have previously worked – to the entire population. Sanders has now proposed legislation to make his idea a reality.

When I first came to Europe in 2009 to study in Copenhagen, the battle for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – more commonly known as “Obamacare” – was raging back home in the United States. I remember how shocked Danes were to find out it was even a question. Then the debate seemed settled after Congress passed the ACA in March 2010. Yet the Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to repeal the ACA more than sixty times while Barack Obama was President, knowing that he would never sign a repeal bill.

Initiatives to repeal the ACA under Donald Trump, who does want to sign such legislation, began almost immediately after his victory last November.[2] There has since been significant disagreement within the Republican Party over just what type of policy would be better. This summer, repeal efforts reached a dramatic conclusion when Senator John McCain, a former Republican Presidential candidate who campaigned against Obama, returned to work after cancer treatment and teamed up with Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to vote down a repeal bill.[3]

The efforts to repeal and replace the ACA with a conservative plan continue, but as Sanders’s op-ed makes clear, the left wing of US politics also has a plan that effectively replaces the Obamacare model: single-payer healthcare. While it is unlikely that the US ever will see a completely public system like Britain’s National Health Service, or even a public-private hybrid system like we have in Sweden, there is a renewed push for some kind of universal coverage.

What is interesting here is not what Sanders specifically thinks: love him or hate him, he is the left-wing fringe of the Senate (albeit with a center that is decidedly to the right of Scandinavian politics) and a thorn in the side of a Democratic establishment that views him as a socialist renegade. Plus, given his age, he is unlikely to run for President again. Moreover, the Medicare for All bill, should it pass when Democrats regain control of Congress, is unlikely to get a signature from President Trump. But Sanders’s bill has attracted some very interesting supporters – and you should take note.

The first Senate Democrat to co-sponsor the “Medicare for All” bill was Kamala Harris, followed quickly by Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Tammy Baldwin, among others.[4] Why are these names important? Because they are favorites to run for President in 2020. Kamala Harris in particular has been the subject of rumors about a Presidential run,[5] and her support for Sanders’s healthcare legislation is all the more remarkable with “Bernie bros” perceiving her, as well as Cory Booker, as a tool of Wall Street.[6] Indeed, some sources say she is already the preferred candidate of wealthy, more centrist donors. Tammy Baldwin, meanwhile, represents Wisconsin, a traditionally Democratic state that shockingly voted for Trump in 2016. Elizabeth Warren is a less surprising supporter, given her left-leaning and populist views, but she is also widely rumored to be considering a run for the presidency.

So what does all of this mean? Mostly that support for single-payer healthcare – at least in some form – is likely to be a litmus test for anyone serious about clinching the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2020. If Trump’s approval ratings stay as low as they’ve been lately, that could very well mean that the President in 2021 shifts the government markedly to the left in healthcare policy.

In the longer term, this could have major consequences for the American economy, US creditors, and companies operating in the healthcare space globally. Medicare for every American might make the population healthier, but it will also be extremely expensive for a country that already has $20 trillion of debt. Americans are still likely to need private insurance (or perhaps higher wages) to cover the costs Medicare does not cover – and it is far from certain what costs those will be: Medicare presently covers about half of a patient’s medical costs, and some individuals must pay a monthly premium. If single-payer healthcare is inevitable for the United States, you can be sure that there will be a lot of revision and amending of the existing legislative proposal, and no one can know whether costly prescription drugs, cancer treatments or mobility aids would be covered and, if so, by how much.

The effects of a potential shakeup in the American healthcare system reverberate far beyond US, and will even have an impact on the med-tech and life science community in the Nordics. Come talk with us at Crimson Clarke to find out more what these potential changes could mean for you and how you can better reach out to key stakeholders around this issue.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/opinion/bernie-sanders-medicare-single-payer.html?_r=1

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-obamacare/house-votes-to-begin-repealing-obamacare-idUSKBN14X1SK

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/us/politics/senate-health-care-vote.html?mcubz=0

[4] https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/9/12/16293016/sanders-single-payer-health-care

[5] http://www.newsweek.com/kamala-harris-2020-election-trump-663103

[6] https://mic.com/articles/183105/democratic-rising-star-kamala-harris-has-a-bernie-sanders-problem#.FFBxgDUKJ

Louise Bengtsson is joining our team

Louise Bengtsson is the newest member of the Crimson Clarke team. She is a specialist in European and public affairs, with a focus on public health and sustainable development. Louise has previously held positions at the European Commission in Brussels, in the Swedish government offices, as well as at Edelman in London. In addition to working with Crimson Clarke clients, she is also pursuing a doctoral degree at Stockholm University, researching European health governance.

 

Beltway Breakfast with Sean Trende

Sean Trende, Senior Elections Analyst for RealClearPolitics, shared his electoral wisdom with us this morning as part of our Crimson Clarke/Ipsos seminar series. Huge thanks to the US Embassy for organizing his visit, and to all our clients and friends for joining us for muffins and politics at our offices at United Spaces. 

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Welcome, Ian Higham!

We are pleased to welcome Ian Higham to the Crimson Clarke team. A native of the US, Ian specializes in corporate social responsibility, stakeholder engagement and international best practices and has a background in socially responsible investment and business research. He also frequently comments on US politics in the Swedish media. In addition to working with Crimson Clarke clients, Ian is pursuing his doctorate in political science at Stockholm University.