Will Class Become Caste and Birth Become Destiny?

jeremywaldronportraitThe University of Edinburgh’s Annual Gifford Lecture Series has now begun. Professor Jeremy Waldron is University Professor at the New York University Law School. Professor Waldron’s work in jurisprudence and political theory is well known, as are his articles on constitutionalism, democracy, homelessness, judicial review, minority cultural rights, property, the rule of law, hate speech, human dignity, and torture. This post appeared originally on the Gifford Lecture Blog.

In a stimulating opening Gifford Lecture tonight, Professor Jeremy Waldron emphasised the urgency of not only eradicating ‘surface inequality’ in public legal relations, but in carrying out a theological and philosophical examination of what may underpin human equality in a world where ‘grotesque differences in economic lives’ create the risk of ‘leech and leak’ to undermine our commitment to a common humanity. We re-assure ourselves that the ‘surface inequality’ between rich and poor is compatible with an inviolate ‘basic human equality’ which underlies our mutual existence. But is that weakening in our society, such that the view may emerge that ‘the poor are not fully human’ and ‘only the prosperous live fully human lives’? Is there a danger now that a ‘conditional’ legal status due to the vicissitudes of life, such as that of an African-American in jail, becomes re-inforced as a ‘sortal’ status of permanent identity to delineate rights and all human potential, in like kind to the evils of slavery or apartheid in the past?

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Climate Change: Moving Beyond the Smoke Screen

GB Profile pictureIn this guest post, Geoffrey Buckley, Professor of Geography and Undergraduate Chair at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, reports on a recent departmental seminar on climate change, and the important issues that it raised for research and policy-making.

Dr. Judith Curry, professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, visited Ohio University in Athens, Ohio recently to discuss, in her words, the “state of the climate debate.” She was a guest of the George Washington Forum, a group that, according to its website, endeavours to bring “civic education and intellectual diversity” to campus. Curry, an outspoken critic of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), confirmed her reputation as a “climate heretic” early on in her presentation, stating: “It’s a name I’m proud to bear. I’m not telling anybody what to do; it’s the honest broker role.” Unfortunately, it’s a role that does not suit her.

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Ebola: Judging Reactions and Responses. What Happens Next?

LG Ebola 27 Oct 2014

The University of Edinburgh’s Global Academies have announced their Autumn 2014 Ebola Series in response to the current global crisis. In this short post, Dr Harriet Cornell from the Global Justice Academy reflects on how the global response to Ebola has unfolded in the press, and criticisms that have been voiced by experts in the field.

This evening’s Ebola headlines are divided between pleas for world help from Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and blame for the spread and devastation of the outbreak been laid squarely at the doors of the world’s supranational bodies: the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations. Then there is the intersect between the outbreak of the disease in West Africa, and the western media response, with The Guardian running a comment piece entitled The problem with the west’s Ebola response is still fear of a black patient’.

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The Islamic State and Al Qaeda: the Return of Jihad to the Middle East

Ewan SteinThis guest post is by Dr Ewan Stein, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Edinburgh. A longer version of this post will appear as an article in the journal Afkar/Ideas, published by the Institut Europeu de la Mediterrània, Barcelona.

By the time of the 2010-2011 Arab uprisings Al Qaeda was a peripheral actor in regional politics. It now finds itself in competition with a new, perhaps more powerful, jihadist actor in the Islamic State (IS). But IS and Al Qaeda pursue complimentary, rather than divergent, strategies and the IS phenomenon represents a logical evolution for global jihad.

Following 9/11 and the destruction of its Afghan stronghold Al Qaeda had become a decentralised network of affiliates. The uprisings initially pushed global jihad as a strategy to improve the plight of Muslims in the Middle East even further to the margins, and the death of Osama bin Laden in June 2011 registered as a footnote to the much larger political convulsions of the time.

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Minority Women and Politics of Austerity in France and the United Kingdom

A guest blog by Akwugo Emejulu, University of Edinburgh and Leah Bassel, University of Leicester, in which they argue that in order to counter the asymmetrical effects of the current economic crisis, intersectional analyses and coalition building are required. They consider how researchers might capture the effects of austerity on representations of minority women’s vulnerability as well as their activism. They do so by drawing on their current empirical project, ‘Minority Women’s Activism in Tough Times’, which explores the impact of the crisis on minority women in Scotland, England and France.


At the time of writing, the UK is undergoing the most extensive reduction and restructuring of its welfare state since its enactment after the Second World War (Taylor-Gooby and Stoeker 2010; Yeates et al 2011). The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government is presiding over a 27% cut to local government—the key mechanism for delivery of public services—and a 68% cut to the social housing budget (Taylor-Gooby 2011: 4). Whilst France was not implementing as stringent measures until the January 2014 budget was announced, a key policy aim of the Socialist government is austerity (Clift 2013). The headline of President François Hollande’s 2013 budget, which he described as ‘the biggest budget shock of the past 30 years’ (Guélaud 2012), was a commitment to cutting the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2013 (L’Express 2012). However, the beleaguered Socialist government missed this budget target (BBC 12 March 2013).

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What Does It Mean To Be A Socially Responsible University?

A guest blog by Dave Gorman, Edinburgh University’s first Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

“I’ve got principles….and if you don’t like them well I’ve got other principles”
Groucho Marx

I love Groucho Marx, but he did once say that he wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would allow him as a member, so we continue to work to improve our approach to make sure we stick to our principles, and I wanted to share some emerging thoughts on where we are heading.

The University’s own Strategic Plan calls for us all to help make a significant, sustainable and social contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world. We have been trying to do just that, publishing a Social Responsibility Strategy in 2010, a Climate Action Plan in 2010 and more recently undertaking a review of the University’s approach to socially responsible investment. We’ve also been thinking hard about how these issues should feed into the University’s approach to learning and teaching.

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Minimum price on alcohol in Scotland—a local measure affecting global issues?

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Dr Arriana Andreangeli, Lecturer in Competition Law, School of Law

Alcohol abuse is one of the major threats to public health worldwide.  According to the World Health Organisation, it represents the third largest cause of premature mortality and on its own accounts for 2.5 million deaths each year; it also stands to lead to other societal harms, such as work absenteeism, child neglect and domestic violence.

The misuse of alcoholic substances represents a major threat to health, public order and the economy in the whole of the UK: in respect to England, statistics compiled by the NHS in 2010 and referring to the period between 2007 and 2009 indicated, among other findings, almost 7,000 deaths for alcohol related illnesses only in 2008 (an increase of 24% from 2001) and a net cost to the NHS of about £2.4 million for prescription drugs aimed at treating these conditions only in 2009.  The situation is certainly not more encouraging in Scotland: according to the NHS, in the period of 2010/11 there were an average of 695 alcohol related hospital discharges per 100,000 heads of population, totalling close to 39,000.  Importantly the rate was 7 times higher in the most deprived areas of Scotland.

In light of the above it is not surprising that the SNP led Government sought to honour its election pledge of enacting legislation setting out a minimum price on alcohol.  Similar measures are also in force in Canada and New Zealand and are also under discussion in Westminster, with a consultation being open on whether to impose a minimum price of 45p per unit.  The Act was approved in July 2012: it sets out a minimum price per unit of alcoholic substance, which is calculated on the basis of the alcohol percentage for each drink and provides a “floor price” of 50p per unit.  According to Alex Neal, Scottish Health Secretary, “Minimum pricing will save lives and reduce the harm caused by alcohol misuse and we believe the policy, agreed by parliament and backed by expert opinion is the most effective pricing measure”.  However, the legislation is yet to receive Royal assent, pending two legal challenges, one before the Scottish courts and one before the Court of Justice of the EU: appellants in the former are seeking judicial review of the measure on the grounds of it both going beyond Holyrood’s legislative powers and contravening free trade and competition principles.  At the same time, the Scottish Whisky Association had complained to the EU Commission that minimum pricing would infringe the EU Treaty free movement and competition rules.

In a recent opinion, leaked from the Commission to the UK press, the Commission’s Secretary General, Catherine Day, expressed the view that the measure in issue, while being consistent with the public health policy goals pursued by the EU, raised questions as to its proportionality to the objectives being sought—in other words, is there a less restrictive measure vis-à-vis imposing a minimum price? In this respect, higher taxation on alcoholic drinks was highlighted as a less restrictive alternative, on the ground that it would apply across the board on all drinks, whether imported or domestic; it would also not place foreign drinks at a competitive disadvantage on the ground that it would not prevent suppliers from exploiting efficiencies and therefore transfer the ensuing economies of scale to consumers through lower prices.

But is taxation the most effective solution when it comes to achieving its public health goals, especially in terms of the reduction of harm arising from hazardous drinking? The 2010 Sheffield study on alcohol consumption provides clear evidence that a direct causal link exists between sustained price increases and reduction in consumption.  Furthermore, a study published by academics at the Canadian University of British Columbia, and concerning three distinct provinces where minimum prices apply, albeit at different levels, shows that imposing floor prices at purchase has the maximum effect in terms of displacing and potentially eroding demand from the most hazardous drinkers, who are the most price-sensitive on the ground of their tendency to maximise alcohol intake per dollar spent.

Against this background, it is legitimately queried whether the debate now centres on pitching goals of free trade and free and unconstrained markets against objectives of public health and of protecting society from the harmful effect of excessive alcohol consumption: it may be argued that the Scottish Government seeks to maximise the attainment of the former, albeit at the expense of the latter.  The Scottish Whisky Association and other stakeholders, supported, at least in part, by the concerns expressed by the EU Commission, seem to be poised in the opposite direction—in other words they do not appear prepared to dispose of their profits for the sake of achieving the widest harm reduction effects.  More generally, it is argued that the Scottish legislation on minimum price on alcohol represents a “microcosm” of how the “global market forces” are in tension with other “global challenges”, such as the protection of health against the ill-effects of addictive substances.

Andrea Local-Global Connections blog

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