At the end of the second world war Europe was broke and divided and a plan was made to help both, by pooling coal and steel markets the countries could work together to be richer and at the same time make war socially impossible. 43 years ago the UK joined the EC and 41 years ago had a referendum to decide if it should stay in. The UK voted to stay in.
The 1975 Out campaign. Hard left politicians working with racist Tory Enoch Powel and showing a weird ignorance of the difference between the UK and England & Wales.
Since then the EC has become the EU and expanded to a single market which has largely removed borders for people to travel and work as well as companies to trade.
Now there is another referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU. This time it’s the hard right of politics leading it. The Conservative (Tory) party in England wants to deal with its internal divisions as well as the anti-EU UKIP party by having a referendum. Nobody else sees the need and unlike the referendums for Scottish or Catalan independence there’s zero engagement from the public. I’ve seen not one poster in windows or on cars, there has been not one rally in the streets and it’s extremely hard to find even debates or talks to attend. There’s no campaign to join, the political parties who worked together in the anti-Scottish independence campaign all lost lots of the vote after it so now no party wants to work together and instead there’s a campaign fronted by Tories and run by Blairite Labour family member Will Straw who’s dad is responsible for kidnapping and mass surveillance.
Which I find extremely frustrating because this is important. With Scottish Independence the issue was taking a risk of change for a promise of a government that reflects the people who vote for it. Here the risk is destroying working with neighbouring countries with a replacement that literally nobody knows what it would be and it would be implemented by a government that doesn’t want to implement it (the UK government is split on the issue but the Prime Minister is a Remain campaigner).
The EU allows basic freedoms which I have no idea why anyone would want to give up. I can live and work in Stirling and I’d object to any government telling me I couldn’t but I can also live and work in Guadeloupe (politically if not geographically in Europe) or in Barcelona and I see zero reason why a government should say where I can go.
So I watched some debates and went to some meetings to try to understand why anyone would want to vote leave. Some of the main arguments:
It’s undemocratic – no it’s not and it’s extremely dishonest to claim it is. The problem is there’s zero media coverage of EU politics but that’s not the EU’s fault.
Judges make our laws – that’s very normal and called common law, a principle founded in England. The supreme court of the UK overrides the Scottish Government as much as the European Court of Justice.
It undermines the workers – very occasionally you hear the old left argument against the EU that it allows more competition for the workers. But this is basic economics, more competition improves the economy overall and everyone wins. The economically right wing politicians should be a big supporter of the EU it’s mystifying they are not.
Beware the immigrants! – this is the big one. The leave campaign is going all out with this message and it works. The idea that lines on a map should decide where we can and can’t go is incredible but tribal instincts are strong and potential leave voters all seem to be happy to dislike people from across those lines.
I was doing a political stall at the weekend and one person really did start his questions with “I’m not a racist but… when’s it going to stop all these refugees from Pakistan” which is incredible but people really do mix up an imaginary problem with real problems (refugees from Syria for example) with the unrelated EU referendum (which wouldn’t stop any refugees that are delt with under different treaties).
But look at what they did to Greece! Another popular line with left wing voters is the conditions for a Greek bail out and with right wing voters is the problems with the Euro. Certainly the Euro was badly managed by fudging the figures to allow in countries that didn’t meet the criteria. And certainly that’s been harsh on Greece, although nobody complained when their politicians were lying about their finances to allow them into the Euro and now 90% of people in Greece want to remain in the EU. But the UK leaving the EU will do nothing to solve that. (By the way it’s still my preferred option for an independent Scotland to join the Euro but only if the economic conditions are met rather than by fudging the figures.)
But you want an independent Scotland so you should want an independent UK I want an independent Scotland largely because we have the EU which means we can work with our neighbouring countries on common regulations and ignore the boring details of how you class bananas in shops. If the EU didn’t exist I might still be all for the UK but as it is the UK is a middle layer of government that serves no particular purpose, we have a larger union now.
But the banana laws make it illegal to sell bent bananas in bunches of four! One of the weirder lies from the Leave campaigners is the myth that the EU makes some bananas illegal. I find it insanely frustrating that the media don’t cover this as a straight lie and pretend it might be true. There were rules for the classification of fruit which were based on an British standards before them, they never prohibited anything and the rules were scrapped 7 years ago.
The EU will destroy our NHS with TTIP! TTIP being the trade agreement between the EU and the US which might make more government services put out to tender. Voters in the UK are weirdly attached to the health service (a good thing) forgetting the hundreds of other services the government runs, if TTIP is bad for the NHS why isn’t it bad for the Procurator Fiscal service? But the debate seems to be only about the precious NHS, which shows how limited it is possible to have a debate on the complex world of international tariffs. TTIP is being promoted by the governments of the EU and lead by the UK government. The democratic EU parliament is the best chance we have of scrutiny and probably scrapping it.
But but sovereignty! Along with immigration this is the main battle cry from the leave campaigns (they’re so fractured there’s multiple campaigns). Sovereignty is a weird mediaeval idea that was used to justify absolute power in a monarch over an arbitrary circle on a map. It’s a good thing we’ve mostly got past that idea and lines on a map don’t matter and power is shared between different places for checks and balances. English politics has a cognitive dissonance of believing England/Britain to be a great world power but not actually having much power since the Empire long since dissolved and somehow that gets blamed on the EU. Winston Churchill is often quoted with talk of fighting not to let Germans rule us, it’s straight xenophobia I find repugnant. And Winston Churchill was all for a United States of Europe.
But the polling is for 50% of people to vote to allow governments to once again be able to say where you can live. And that 50% is more motivated than the remain side so it’s quite likely we will not be in the EU in two weeks time. The polling in Scotland is for about 54% of people to vote remain and 32% for leave, that’s very different from England. Scotland is likely to be taken out of the EU against its political will (remember there’s no shared democracy in Scotland compared to England, Scotland voted for 53 of its 56 members of parliament to be from the Scotland only SNP). This may be a good excuse for another Scottish independence referendum at which point who knows what will happen. Scotland could be the continuing member of the EU? Or maybe the public will get bored of referendums and not bother to vote.
So I’m voting remain. Voting remain to work with common standards that allow free movement and trade without the lowest common denominator problem of say NAFTA. Voting remain to be able to go and live wherever I want to. Voting remain to not have England dominate Scotland politically. Voting remain to remove arbitrary lines on a map. Voting remain for a layer of government that investigates tax avoidance to stop it turning into tax evasion. Voting remain for a control on bankers bonuses that destroyed the economy. Voting remain for workers rights and paid holiday. Voting remain on pollution controls which don’t care about lines on a map. Voting remain to work with my friends and colleagues in the rest of the continent because a person in London is no more foreign than a person in Barcelona or Brno.
I strongly advocate for British, Irish or Commonwealth citizens living in the UK to vote similarly.