I’m just back from an excellent and informative meeting with Alyn Smith MEP & Humza Yousaf MSP courtesy of SNP Youth in regards to the EU referendum. It’s immensely frustrating that this vote is coming so quickly after the Scottish Parliament elections: we’re all tired out of our minds, and find ourselves having to campaign like mad yet again.
And here we are: the Leave campaign is showing several strong poll leads in England recently, and walks the tightrope in Wales. Only in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the two countries which have the greatest interest in their dealings with the EU, is Remain retaining its strength – this, despite the massive onslaught of fear and negativity from certain corners of the debate. Considering the two most popular newspapers in the UK now back Leave, it’s clear that we have a real fight on our hands.
Yet even acknowledging the return of Project Fear can give the impression that fear is all there is to this referendum, that it’s a battle between who can scare the people of the UK the most into voting their way. This, along with the manufactured apathy presuming that most people simply aren’t interested in the EU at all, is an appalling regression from the joyous enthusiasm and participation of the independence referendum. It’s somewhat amazing, because the EU is actually a fascinating and rather amazing thing: the seeming banality of the beaurocrats & politicians belies just what a unique institution it is.
Gilbert Ramsay has this to say in an intriguing Open Democracy post:
To put the matter in perspective, imagine for a moment how the world would look if the international system worked like the EU.
First off, suppose that entry into global free trade arrangements was conditional on the more or less genuine implementation of democracy and human rights. Imagine, say, that a state couldn’t join the IMF, the WTO or the World Bank without demonstrating that it complied with the Universal Charter of Human Rights and accepting the jurisdiction of an International Court of Human Rights to which its citizens could appeal and which, unlike the International Criminal Court, actually worked.
Now suppose, in this world of democracies, that the General Assembly of the United Nations had real authority which it used to regulate on matters of global importance beyond the competence of any one state, upholding environmental, labour and safety standards, holding transnational corporations to account and ensuring that free trade wasn’t a race to the bottom.
More than that, imagine that there was also a directly elected world parliament – one which admittedly still played second fiddle to the General Assembly, but which was displaying growing confidence as the mass of national level political parties began to coalesce into genuinely global coalitions.
Now imagine if this counterfactual international order achieved the holy grail of being able to actually do development and peacekeeping? Imagine if, by taking a small amount of revenue from each member state, it was able to divert very substantial resources to the world’s most impoverished regions and, unlike much development aid today, this money (combined with meaningful support in improving governance) had a real (nobody said perfect) track record of lifting countries out of poverty?
At the risk of sounding like a bad John Lennon impersonator, imagine if war had become unthinkable within the boundaries of this global community, while countries that collapsed into civil war outside of it could expect to be painstakingly and unglamorously pieced back together again and patiently prepared to return to the fold? Imagine if there were not just armed peacekeepers, but international police missions and a plethora of other hard and soft interventions of the kind which transformed Bosnia in less than ten years from a place so riven with sectarian politics that lasting inter-communal peace seemed unthinkable, to a place where, by 2003 ‘a resumption of violence [was] no longer seen as a credible possibility’.
See, I can already imagine some people being horrified at the scenario discussed above, and I can understand – if not agree – with their horror. Where they see a tyranny of red tape, lost sovereignty, bureaucratic obfuscation and capitalist acceleration, I see the opportunity for greater co-operation, accountability, rigour, and reform. Real pooling and sharing of resources, not giving everything you have to one country and be expected to genuflect in cringing supplication for what you are given back.
Perfect? Far from it. A damned sight better than having a Prime Minister chosen by a Queen, a second chamber filled with people who have never been elected, and every piece of legislation requiring royal assent? Absolutely.
A comment from Alan on Derek Bateman’s site is so good he dedicated a post to it (read the whole thing, it’s brilliant):
You often say you are mystified by the ways of Brussels – maybe you are ‘othering’ the EU in the way that you rightly criticise our political leaders for. But if I could say to my grandfather that British, Germans and French, a Spain liberated from fascism, not to speak of the now independent countries that they had never heard of, were working together in the same town, the same building, the same corridor, the same offices, not fighting but talking, he would say – it’s a miracle!
Every day that ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ come to work together to find solutions – in those meetings that you find so boring or incomprehensible – is a miracle day for the people who fought in the trenches and jungles.
Every boring discussion about product standards, police cooperation, the rights of working people, energy saving lightbulbs, mobile phone charges, bankers’ bonuses, clean air, research cooperation, is a testimony to those who fought for our freedom. Each one, a tiny step to paying back the enormous debt we owe them.
Each Member State of the EU has committed to provide consular protection to the citizens of any other Member State. If I could say to my grandfather now – “Papa, if ever you’re in trouble abroad and you can’t get to the British Embassy, go to the Germans, they’ll look after you” – he would have tears in his eyes.
It just proves to me this: the European Union Referendum is only as boring as we let it be. Remember back before the independence referendum, where the comparatively low 25-35% support for independence was used to browbeat us into thinking there was “no appetite for independence?” The Establishment did their damnedest to ignore it, and make it seem to the people of Scotland that this was something forced on them, something they didn’t really want, something they should just want over with as soon as possible. Well, they couldn’t do that: the turnout was the highest national poll since universal suffrage.
This is one of the defining images of the referendum for me. EU citizens campaigning for an independent Scotland – the civic nationalism the Better Together campaign fell over itself to discredit and smear in action. People who were not born here, but are here, and campaigning with their fellow Scots. They campaigned with us native Scots, just as the English Scots for Yes campaigned with us, and the Scots Asians for Yes, and Africans for Indy, and all the other New Scots who support Scottish independence. What’s more, our friends outside Scotland supported us by simply wishing us well – Plaid Cymru in Wales; SNSD in Bosnia & Herzegovina; Convergència, Esquerra, Estat Català, and the CUP of Catalunya; Amaiur of Basque Country; Vlaamse Volksbeweging of Flanders; Raixe Venete, MLNPS, SNI of Venice, Corsica and Sardinia. All these groups are part of the European Union, and like Scotland, are fighting for representation within it.
The extreme right-wing are trying to foster nostalgia for the British Empire in their attempts to “take back control,” pretending that it is they who will look out for the British people more than their caricature of faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. I feel far, far more in common with my fellow evangelists of self-determination in Catalunya, Republika Srpska, & Vlaanderen than I do with the privileged, elitist, conservative gentry of many parties who stand to gain the most from Leave under the guise of democracy. And unlike the suicide pact which was the reality of a No vote in the Scottish referendum, we can and will be able to work with our friends in Europe, even with the obstructions placed by clueless Westminster governments.
That’s the reality of “taking back control.” Voting Leave is a vote to place more authority in Westminster, a democratic disgrace from the antiquated first-past-the-post to the royal assent, from the House of Lords to the ludicrous etiquette, which treats parliamentary sovereignty over that of the people. Voting Remain is a vote to retain what we have with with the European Union – a union that utilises proportional representation, has no king or queen to appeal to, appoints no bra tycoons or songwriters to unelected chambers, does not have people play dress-up and enact pointless rituals, and enshrines the rights of the people into law. Why would we “take back control” when we already have it? Because the people talking about “taking back control” aren’t speaking for the people of Britain, but for themselves.
Vote Leave to hand control to the elite, the privileged, the establishment, the forces who have decimated our industries, the powers who have suppressed the common people, the terrors who keep us terrorised. Vote remain to keep control in the hands of the people.