Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Should I Stay Or Should I go? -The British Referendum on European Union
So now we have a date for the referendum. And the prospect of almost 4 months of wall to wall chatter on the subject, very little of which will be anything other than scare tactics as we had in the Scottish Independence referendum. Don't get me wrong, the politics of fear will come from both sides of the argument, or should that be non-argument, since the actual issues won't get heard among the shouting. On one side, the 'In' Campaign, we will have rolled out the fear of economic collapse and being left isolated in terms of security if we leave the EU; on the other, the 'Out', we will have fear of unlimited migration and fear of not retaining any useful sovereignty as all laws will emanate from Brussels if we remain in the EU. And as to that last point, the anti-EU media in the UK have for years being waging a constant campaign to plant in the minds of the British, the 'outrageous' iniquities foisted upon them by the EU ('file under "you couldn't make it up"') such as Caribbean bananas being too curved to meet EU stipulations or bottled water not allowed to proclaim that it leads to re-hydration. For them the Brexit campaign didn't just start on Monday, but ever since the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992.
The entry into the arena of one Boris Johnson finally seemed to fire the starting gun on the campaigning, because it apparently lends a heavyweight political figure to oppose the stance of David Cameron who wants the UK to remain within the EU. The whole debate has become skewed to discuss the political machinations of the Conservative Party, because Cameron has already stated this will be his last term as Prime Minister and the fight to replace him has superceded the actual issue of EU membership. Which is doubly a pity as Boris Johnson really isn't worth a nation's attention, UNLESS he does become Prime Minister. Currently he is stepping down form being a rather poor Mayor of London, holds no power in Cabinet other than a token position and his amiable fop schtick does not play well north of London and the Home Counties, because Northerners are gruff sort of folk who won't wear his bumbling buffoonery. The number of gaffes and insults Boris has committed to communities of a Northern persuasion begins to require more than two hands to keep a tally of. I'm with the North on this one (channeling my Mother's Northern heritage I think I can pull it off with sincerity). If Boris Johnson does end up becoming Prime Minister, then the whole of the UK is a collective fool falling for his cuddly Uncle act.
I'm going to put my cards on the table now. I ardently hope we stay in the EU. But my reasons are as usual, wildly removed from most you will hear bandied about. My view is one of the long-term, motivated by both idealism and (non-parochial) ideology. I've written before (and here) about how a good deal of Britain's problems lie from its heritage and persistent belief that we are still a significant country on the world stages of economy and diplomacy. That the 'Great' in Great Britain is still justified. But I'd go deeper than that, I think many of the world's problems are ascribable to nation-states and nationalism. Therefore anything that brings us together in greater unions and breaks down nationalistic barriers is a good thing to my mind. The UK complaint about the EU being a political union as well as an economic one is actually the best argument for it, although the British will never see it that way. And yes, we are a long way off still from any full-scale political union, as witnessed by the EU's inability to act coherently on issues such as Ukraine, Syria and the migrant crisis. So I accept this is a very idealistic stance for me to take. You won't see anyone in the campaign calling for the UK to move towards more political union with the rest of Europe. We are an island nation and welcome that separation of the waters. More's the pity.
The thing is also that whichever side I plump for, would put my support behind things I am fundamentally opposed to. For example, if the UK did leave, then the City Of London would lose its central status as being the European financial nexus between Hong Kong in the East and New York in the West. The UK financial industry would be crippled as Europe repatriated everything probably to Frankfurt. Now the idealist in me would welcome that, as our reliance on capital and high finance since the 1980s has ushered in corrupt practises, corporate tax evasion, environmental exploitation and huge differentials between rich and poor. Yet I am also aware that without the wealth generated by the City of London, this country would be even worse off since it is one of the few wealth-generating services we have now we are bereft of a serious manufacturing base. Also I would be fundamentally against Turkey being admitted to the EU because of its poor human rights record and lack of true arts and media freedoms, I cannot believe it meets the entry requirements in these realms. But the morally corrupt equation is that Turkey's compliance is needed to deal with the migration crisis to the East of it and what we have that Turkey so badly craves is membership in the EU. It's also probably fair to say that certain other entry standards would see existing members fall short of meeting; Greece with regard to the economy, Hungary with regard to protected freedoms of minority groups and Polish press and media freedom, not least its current proposed legislation to outlaw holocaust denial where attributed to the Germans, but to not only permit such denial for any Polish atrocities, but to criminalise such claims.
The EU is not a perfect community by any means. But I think it's worth persevering with and seeking to help it realise its ultimate dream, even if that goes against the beliefs of the vast amount of my fellow Brits. If we do vote to pull out, apart from the instability of the two years to extricate our institutions and laws from those of the EU, it will precipitate constitutional crisis here as the Scots will certainly demand another independence referendum to follow on quickly, because they will vote to a man and woman to stay within the EU and therefore see themselves as wholly unrepresented by the rest of the UK's decision to pull out. And this leads to a final consideration. How often do we have these 'once in a generation referendums'? This would be the second referendum on Scottish independence in less than 5 years. If we vote to come out of the EU, it's unlikely we'll ever hold (or be allowed by the EU to hold) another referendum, to rejoin. But if we vote to stay in, how long before the anti-EU brigade agitate for another chance to decide the question? In the meantime, the media will continue to spew out reports of having to straighten our bananas...