Saturday, 11 June 2016

Only children are scared of a pin-prick


This may be my last bit of writing for a while. I deliberately organised things such that I’d be away during the referendum. I shall not be paying much attention to the news. My guess is that most of the people in the part of Spain I like to go to will be paying more attention to the football than to whether the UK chooses to stay in the EU or not. It will be good to get away from the poisonous atmosphere that referendums create. If I wake up one morning and find that we’ve decided to leave the EU, I will be full of hope for the future. If, on the other hand, I wake up to find we’ve chosen to remain I will shrug my shoulders and may even feel a slight sense of relief. But whatever happens no-one will connect the decision with me. I frequently get complemented on the excellence of my English when I’m abroad. After all no-one who speaks Russian all day could possibly be from Scotland.

Maybe a person’s politics is due to their nature. I think people are a paradoxical mixture of morality and self-interest. Sometimes we try to dress up our self-interest as morality. But there are times when we are willing to do the right thing even if it might be contrary to our interest. If this were not the case no-one would willingly go to war.

It was always my contrariness that made me a Tory. Everyone I knew in Scotland was left wing. I found it so dull and I liked to argue. What better position to take than one that would inevitably lead to an argument? What’s more, being a Conservative in Scotland is about questioning the assumptions that everyone else has. So I began to question. From this followed what I believe.

I believe in free market economics and free trade. I don’t think equality of outcome is a goal that is either possible or desirable to obtain. Give each of us the same chance. Bring down the barriers that prevent an individual reaching his goals. But don’t try to organise everything from on high. Don’t think that government can control our destiny. Freedom is about taking responsibility for my own choices. Goodness requires that moral choices are a matter of individual decision rather than government diktat. Socialism destroys morality by forcing me to be moral. Sharing then becomes a matter of law rather than a matter of choice. It is legalised theft. If I rob a rich man’s house, I’m a crook but if I and my friends get the government to rob him, I’m a socialist.

From my belief in limited government and individual freedom I began some time ago to question the European Union. I have not by any means always been hostile to the EU. There are still circumstances in which I could support the EU.

If I was presented with the possibility of a fully democratic United States of Europe with a system of government as free as the USA, I would be inclined to take that offer. It matters little to me where the locus of government is. Someone from Texas is in an enviable position even if ultimately he is ruled from Washington rather than from Austin. The reason for this is that Texas has considerable devolved/local power and it is a part of democracy. It matters no more that Texas is sometimes outvoted by the USA as a whole than that Aberdeenshire is outvoted by Scotland.

It gradually became clear to me however that the EU was not remotely like the USA in terms of democracy. There is no sign that it will ever become a democracy either. For this reason for a democratic country to sign up to ever closer union is to sign up to every more tyranny. If Texas were a democracy, while the USA were not, it would be the duty of Texans to either try to make the USA more democratic or failing that to break free. But for so long as the USA remains a democracy, it is anti-democratic for Texas to secede, even if it is outvoted. Democracy depends on accepting the will of the majority. 

I concluded however,  that there was no way we could make the EU democratic. Power in the EU does not lie with the electorate. The European Parliament is not the source of power rather it is a front that gives the illusion of democracy in a similar way in which some communist countries used to pretend they were democratic. The people with real power in the EU are not elected but rather appointed, sometimes self-appointed. This is no more democratic than the House of Lords. Allowing the EU to overrule the democratic wishes of the British people is like allowing the House of Lords to overrule the House of Commons.

The situation in the EU is not getting better, rather it is getting worse.  Last summer I saw how the Greek people were treated. Their democracy has been crushed by an oligarchy who no-one can kick out. They have become a vassal state who must do what their German masters tell them. They may still have the illusion of democracy, but the substance has dissolved. I want no part of this.

Now we discover that Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, can decide whether or not the UK has access to the single market, just as he decided whether Greece would have a bail out or not. I keep hearing that the British Parliament may decide to ignore the result of the referendum. Some people suggest that we might be asked the same question again until we get the right answer. To this I say enough.

I do not oppose the countries of Europe cooperating or trading freely with each other. Within reason I am happy for us to be able to live and work in each other’s countries. But we don’t need to become an undemocratic superstate to do these things. Other countries in the world trade freely with each other. Some of them have formed trading groups. But none of these countries allow themselves to be subordinate to a supranational body in order to trade freely. Our freedom and our democracy is the very soul of our country. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for trade?

The folly of the EU in setting up a single currency is now clear to everyone. It has caused poverty in southern Europe. The folly of trying to abolish national borders without being able to defend the border of the EU as a whole was shown last year. There is one hope for democracy in Europe. We must return in an orderly way to how we were. Let us re-establish national currencies and national democracies. Let us have at least a minimal amount of control at each nation border, for safety’s sake. Let the nation states of Europe become like all the other countries in the world, free and sovereign.

If Britain leaves the EU it just might be the example that Spain, Italy and Greece need to bring them back to democracy and prosperity. If on the other hand the EU tries to go still further on the road to becoming a superstate, at least we wouldn’t be a part of it. To remain is to be culpable for the loss of freedom, democracy and prosperity of our neighbours. Even if we by opting out of Schengen and the Euro have been spared much of their suffering we still have a duty towards our neighbour.

I am morally opposed to the EU because I have come to the conclusion that it does harm not so much to Britain as to others. In Britain we have always been willing to stick up for others. We fought wars to defend Belgium and Poland. We have been willing to suffer in order to do what was right. But what we are faced with now is nothing at all like that.

We faced an economic crisis in 2008 that led to some years of recession. But this happened even though we were in the EU. Such a crisis might happen again this year or next year. Alternatively we may avoid another deep recession. No-one knows. But economic shocks will happen at some point whether we are in the EU or not. What would happen if we voted to leave? There would be some short term uncertainty. This might make the pound fall. Stock markets may go up and down a bit. But these things will pass. Our biggest problem frankly would be that people like David Cameron have been so unpatriotic as to predict disaster for the UK economy if we decided to leave the EU. They have created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But guess what, the day after leaving, everyone in the British government and indeed the EU would be doing their best to reassure markets and avert any difficulties that might arise.  In a remarkably short time we’d find everything was more or less back to normal. Britain will keep trading more or less freely with the EU. People from all our countries will be able more or less to live where we please. An arrangement will be made that satisfies the will of the British people and which enables us to have a relationship with the EU that is mutually beneficial.   

I cannot quite believe the level of Project Fear that Mr Cameron and his friends have developed during this referendum. The fact is that leaving the EU wouldn’t even be that difficult. Compared to Scottish independence, leaving the EU is remarkably straightforward. The only issue that matters is trade. But look around the world. Nearly every country in the world trades more or less freely with everyone else.  Even in Europe it is not necessary to be in the EU in order to trade freely with other European countries. There is not a single European country west of Belarus’ that does not trade freely with every other. The idea that Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and the Holy See can have free trade while being outside the EU, but Britain could not is ludicrous.

I think there is a natural majority in the UK against being a part of the EU. We have been reluctant from the start, for which reason we didn’t sign up to things like Schengen and the Euro. Few indeed of those who want to remain really love the EU. Fewer still want Britain to be part of a United States of Europe. These voters don’t much care for the EU, but they are scared to leave. They think that leaving will make us poorer or they’re worried about losing their right to live and work abroad. Many people who will vote to remain in the EU are doing so because of how they see themselves as vaguely internationalist and liberal. Some in Scotland are worried that if we vote to leave the EU, it will make a vote for Scottish independence more likely.

No-one can predict the future. But let’s look at the fundamentals. If the fifth largest economy in the world can’t afford to leave the EU, the EU really is a burning building with no exits. If tiny Iceland can be prosperous outside the EU, of course Britain can be. Long term we may even be more prosperous. If our example led to the EU going back to being a collection of nation states with their own currencies who trade freely with each other, this might be the one thing necessary to bring growth to countries like Greece and Italy. This would of course help us too. Best of all it would be far easier for the UK to arrange trade deals on our own rather than having to rely on the unanimous agreement of 28 very different countries with different interests.

Every western European whether from an EU country or not can live and work everywhere in Europe. No-one is going to start making it difficult for Brits to go on holiday or to work abroad. The idea that Germany will allow in all comers, except Brits is perverse.

If you really are an internationalist, then you should care about the plight of the southern Europeans. Moreover, unless you really think we should abolish all borders, then it’s necessary to accept that caring about other countries and working together with them does not require that we are ruled by them. The Japanese are not anti-Asian because they maintain their own borders and don’t want to be ruled by a union of Asian countries. An Australian can equally feel an internationalist while wishing to maintain Australian sovereignty.

The argument for the UK leaving the EU is very different from the argument for Scotland leaving the UK. The process of leaving the EU would not involve creating a new nation state.  The UK would simply revert to the norm. We’d go back to what we always were until we joined. This is no more scary than going back to the 1960s, or being a country like New Zealand.

I don’t like negative campaigning, but the difficulties involved in Scotland becoming independent are genuine. What’s more if the UK as a whole decided to leave the EU it would be even harder for Scotland to achieve independence. To imagine Scotland in the EU while the UK is outside is to imagine a distance and a gulf which few, except the most hard-line Scottish nationalists, would want to contemplate.

The SNP themselves have admitted that Brexit would not lead to them asking for another independence referendum. They have also admitted that Brexit makes the case for Scottish independence harder. The EU in fact acts as the condition for the possibility of sub nation-state nationalism. It enables the SNP to argue that life would go on more or less the same if Scotland left the UK. After all we’d all still be in the EU, governed by the same rules and regulations. People who fear Brexit would lead to a second Scottish independence referendum need to think more long term. It’s not as if the SNP will give up the goal of independence if we vote to remain. The one thing that would unite the UK in the long run is leaving the EU.

Short term I admit to having some fears about leaving the EU. There is some uncertainty. For that reason if the UK votes to remain, I might allow myself a little sigh of relief. But long term I would think we would have made the wrong decision. I oppose the EU morally. It is undemocratic and it has caused unnecessary suffering in Europe. Long term it would benefit not only the UK, but everyone else in Europe if we could revert to being sovereign nation states which simply traded with each other freely. That would help all of our prosperity.  Leaving the EU might involve a pin prick while we adjust to freedom, and self-responsibility.  But we would soon wake up from the anaesthetic and think what on earth were we so scared of.  When an operation is necessary it obviously is also worth it.  A sigh of relief at avoiding the pin prick in these circumstances would be rather childish.


9 comments:

  1. Getting the Irish border wrong will be a hell of lot more painful for me as a British citizen in Ireland than a pin prick Effie. I wish Brexiteers joy in solving that conundrum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My guess is that the Irish border would remain exactly as it is after Brexit. Until & unless hordes of illegal migrants cross from the Republic into Northern Ireland there would be no need whatsoever to man the border.

      Delete
  2. We shall see. Theoretically there has never been a restriction on individuals, but there certainly were onerous enough customs restrictions in my lifetime.

    In the same way that I didn't want to see a border at Berwick, neither do I want to see a return to the varying degrees of border control on the 292 crossings between Muff and Killeen in Ireland. Ultimately three parties, the U.K., the ROI and the EU will determine my present freedom across the British Isles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Republic of Ireland chose to create an international border in Ireland when they left the UK. Obviously that has consequences. But no reason that border should be any more manned than at present. There is practically speaking no illegal immigration coming through the Northern Irish border, so why monitor it?

      Delete
    2. The border was created because unionists refused to accept the wish of the majority that they would belong to the new republic. So much so that they set up paramilitaries to oppose it. This led to the partition and the creation of the border.

      If the whole UK has to leave then you will have to have border posts and checkpoints again. Customs etc

      The alternative IMHO would be to allow NI to remain as a separate state with its own parliament. Therefore no border and the Northern Irish would have to work through all the issues to reintegrate what is still a sectarian community.

      Delete
  3. I've never been any kind of Nationalist Effie so borders hold no excitement for me. And I certainly wasn't alive in either 1921 or 1949 so neither the existence of the Republic of Ireland nor the present shape of the United Kingdom happened on my watch. I have family in London and Donegal and my love is in Edinburgh. Those that want change to our present settlement have a responsibility to deal with it wisely. We shall see what the hand of history and dumb luck deals us soon enough.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, Effie, the UK voted leave, the British government is in meltdown, and the nationalists have a commanding poll lead.

    What now?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Its OK to be in meltdown as long as its an old fashioned London meltdown. nationalists will now of course be told to shut up and sit down and if that does not work they'll threaten to bomb the airports or some other nonsense like that.....happy days

    ReplyDelete
  6. Revisiting this thread again for the first time since I posted 6 months ago, it's amazing the turnaround. Now the British government is filled with a sense of purpose and it is the nationalists who are fearful and don't know how to respond - other than the overused 'referendum even more likely' line. When Sturgeon moves closer to indyref2, it's always half the distance covered by the previous step - she moves closer but never gets there.

    ReplyDelete