What the Varoufakis he on about?

I recently watched this interview between Yanis Varoufakis and Owen Jones and was once again struck by an-all-too-common mindset on the part of Varoufakis.

I am so bored of this rather tiresome narrative and slur that those of us who value democracy and self-determination of nations are xenophobic, racist, or ultra-nationalist.

When did concepts of self-determination and democratic accountability become negative?

Here’s a thing for Varoufakis to consider. If an independent UK gets Boris Johnson and is unhappy with him and his government, guess what… We can vote him out of power in the next general election. Can we say the same about the EU Commission—the body which is part of the troika which has destroyed Varoufakis’ own country’s economy and democracy?

So, Varoufakis is trying to democratise the EU in the face of all the historic evidence, vested interests, and lobby groups involved. He’s right that the contempt is for political elites, but there’s also a hell of a lot of contempt for those who want to remove people’s sense of belonging to a nation state, which does not at all preclude friendship and partnership between nation states; and based on opinion polls, there’s quite a bit of public contempt for idealistic open-border advocates too. He may indeed find that it is precisely this latter development which is causing the resurgence of the extreme right, which, contrary to his rather bigoted view, many of us who favour Brexit vociferously oppose. For my part, I have growing contempt for idealists who think we should all share their utopian views in the face of all the contrary evidence and experience.

Why does he consider the notion that people like to belong to a group with whom they share cultural values, history, laws, and traditions, i.e. a nation state, a negative thing? I thought we were all in favour of maintaining cultural differences. The nation state is a natural and long-established state of affairs around the world. Most people are perfectly happy with and identify with the nation state, but are also perfectly capable of not hating other nations. Most people take the view that each nation, and even smaller subdivisions within nations, have their own ways, and see that rather as a point of interest, rather than a negative thing. In other words, we follow the maxims ‘live and let live’ and ‘vive la différence’.

Most people can identify with this sense of positive patriotism at times of national celebration or during international sporting events, such as the Olympics. If you support a national sports team passionately, you understand this. Your love of your own team and pride in its achievements don’t mean you hate other teams. Indeed, a good fan will recognise the positives in other teams and seek to learn from these.

One thing I find that internationalists (or continentalists, in this case) overlook is where their endgame inevitably leads them. In seeking to undermine the nation state and surplant it with a large political union, they are merely looking to create a larger, more powerful nation state in the long run—precisely the kind of empire-building they’ve traditionally opposed, and all entailing the shift of power from being closest to the people to increasingly remote levels away from people.

His argument against the notion of the nation state is as nonsenical as claiming that love for your family necessitates hatred of other families. It’s utterly bizarre!

He goes on to say

“[The Commission] can not be dismissed by anybody, and as Tony Benn said, ‘Unless you are able to ask those who make decisions over you, ‘how do I get rid of you?’ and get a meaningful answer, you don’t have a democracy.’ So that’s what’s important to do in Europe. We have to do it to give more sovereignty and more degrees of freedom to our national parliaments.”

He’s just made the precisely the argument I, and many others, make for Brexit. The difference is, he is under the rather bizarre delusion that the EU is capable of reform; reform which has been known about for decades (as a former pro-EUer, I know this all too well). How much longer is he going to put his idealism before the welfare of his own people and other members of the EU?

Do we need to be in a political union with New Zealand, the U.S.A., Australia, or Japan to be on friendly terms? No, we are bound by broadly aligned, common values.

“The retreat to the nation state is never going to benefit the Left.”

But Varoufakis seems to suffer under the bizarre delusion that adherence to an organisation which is governed predominantly by the Right and is subjected to the highest levels of lobbying from multinationals will benefit the Left.

Frankly, I don’t give a stuff what will or won’t benefit the Left. I won’t vote to benefit the political Left or the political Right. I’ll vote on principles and on the basis of making decision-makers accountable to voters, and at the closest possible level.

If that means we get a government of Left or Right, I won’t care, because that government will do either good things and be re-elected, or it will do bad things, and be ousted. That’s national democracy for you – political Darwinism, if you like. Varoufakis on the other hand, appears to be a political creationist and expects everyone else to share his vision/beliefs. No thanks, I want accountable politicians and on a level where decision-making is responsive, quick, and decisive; not cumbersome, slow, and indecisive.

And I want to live in a confident, positive, and outward-looking UK, which doesn’t believe that the world stops at the EU’s borders and in forcing unwilling European people into a giant, political, undemocratic empire against their will.

Obama Doesn’t Care

So, the big O has landed in Europe on his farewell tour, and has kindly popped in to do David Cameron a favour by invoking the memory of his fallen compatriots to galvanise support for the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

The tens of thousands of American soldiers who are are laid to rest across Europe deserve Europe’s eternal gratitude. Of that there is no doubt, and some of us make an effort to remind people of this on an ongoing basis and in the face of the all-too-prevalent, de rigueur, anti-American sentiment which pervades Europe.

Nevertheless, those soldiers died in defence of freedom and democracy. Obama may not grasp the ins-and-outs of the mechanics of the European Union, and be speaking from an understandable perspective of self-interest, but the European Union is fundamentally anti-American on a purely constitutional level. It is the antithesis of everything the Founding Fathers believed in.

Can you for one second honestly imagine a scenario where the U.S. public would be happy to send billions of dollars to, lets say Mexico City, and be subjected to laws created by a panel of unelected politicians there in return; their money being spent in Mexico, without any accountability to U.S. citizens, in an attempt to build up the economy of a country which may be massively less productive than the U.S. economy, and unprepared to reform. Oh, and the more the U.S. economy improves, the more it has to contribute?

Can you imagine that U.S. citizens would put up with this for decades, with constant lip-service paid to the notion of reforming this supranational organisation?

“Yes, we know that the American Union is a profoundly undemocratic and corrupt organisation, but we need to be in it to reform it.”

The maxim “no taxation without representation” was a perfectly legitimate expression of grievance on the part of the then American colonists in response to British governance of their lands.

In the European Union, in which Brits are net contributors, we are in a similar scenario, although even then, in Georgian Britain the government was at least accountable to some voters – The EU Commission doesn’t even come up to scratch on that level!

MEPs nominally represent voters, but they can’t legislate, but only express approval/disapproval of proposals from the EU Commission. Do you think a parallel situation in the late 18th century would have placated those colonists?

Did the notion of remaining in the British Empire with a view to reforming it placate the thirst for self-determination and the establishment of a state with a renewed sense of purpose, based on European Enlightenment values and secularism?

Certainly not.

Those of us who retain our belief in these core concepts understand and applaud the actions of the American revolutionaries. And let’s not forget that they were prepared to go not to the ballot box to press for these fundamental freedoms, but to their deaths.

We are in a situation where we can express similar sentiments of a desire for the restoration of local accountability of our own politicians and for restoration of our traditional rights of self-determination, so callously surrendered in the past, without the people’s consent, under the deceitful premise of a ‘common market’, and in the interests of the vanity and career progression of politicians, or to assure their place in the history books.

So while I hope that Obama’s outspoken support for the continuation of Britain’s membership of the European Union is one based solely on self-interest on the basis of American influence on the EU via the UK (in particular with regard to matters of defence) rather than any alleged animosity he may harbour towards the UK for personal, familial reasons, I’m sure he’ll understand if many of us think back to how the founders of his nation reacted in the face of disenfranchisement and, if not take to the barracades, take to the urns.

We never want to have to take to the battlefield to restore liberty in Europe again, but the actions of the European Union, in trampling over core principles of democracy are making this not less, but more likely at some point in the future.

For all Donald Trump’s foolish rhetoric in threatening to pull out of NATO, we know that the U.S. would stand by the defence of liberty in Europe if push came to shove, but trust me, nobody wishes to see the spilling of any more American blood on European soil as Europe once again loses sight of and becomes complacent over the core tenets of democracy.

Many of us see the threats ahead of a European Union, forced together without the full consent of its constituent peoples at a time when political power should be moving down to communities, not to increasingly remote and unaccountable levels. There is no historic precedent for the peaceful, long-term success of any such unions. They invariably end in revolutions, and more often than not revolutions of the bloodiest kind.

It’s in all our interests that this is avoided, and if Brexit can be the catalyst for the peaceful break-up of the European Union, while there is still the possibility of such a break-up, and its replacement with a loose, multi-lateral organisation of co-operating, independent states, we may find that it is precisely this which prevents future generations of Americans from being laid to rest in European soil.

 

The Deluded Left’s Guide to EUtopia

This week saw Corbyn come out publicly in favour of UK’s continued membership of the EU, much to the chagrin of many of his former comrades on the left of the Labour Party, who have consistently opposed the EU since before the UK’s accession into the Common Market back in 1973.

I actually understand Corbyn’s public ‘change of heart’ on the EU since becoming leader. It’s actually an oddly pragmatic strategy for someone as normally idealistic as he. Quite simply, he needs to keep the parliamentary Labour Party and the NEC on side or risk being ousted.

Moreover, while a good many people from the older middle class (still reeling from being deceived in 1973, as they see it) oppose continued membership of the EU, much of the younger middle class, despite being completely ignorant of the mechanics of the EU, will be Bremainers. This younger generation of the middle class will vote to remain in the EU, even if for no other reason than because they follow the old simplistic narrative which equates pro-EU with a pro-European, internationalist, modern, cosmopolitan outlook, and anti-EU sentiment as isolationist, nationalistic, or blind jingoistic sentiment; or more simply, because they see that the establishment and big business, with some exceptions, support continued EU membership and will therefore vote accordingly, without bothering to look into things for themselves.

That these people don’t see the effect or injustices in the real world consequences of an undemocratic, supranational, corrupt, and ineffective organisation at the beck and call of multinationals is down to their own ignorance, but ignorant or not, they still have a vote and, as responsible members of the middle class, most likely will vote, so their voice matters to the party they traditionally support, and by extension to Jeremy Corbyn, whose party’s support matters to him if he has any hope of gaining power over the country.

I’m sure that Corbyn’s true feelings are the ones he voiced prior to becoming leader, and those he shared with the likes of Tony Benn and Bob Crow, and I note his careful use of language in his ostensibly pro-remain speech on Thursday, saying “the Party believes…” rather than “I believe…”

But here’s what I find particularly bizarre and illogical about the stance of the UK’s Guardian-reading middle classes I constantly come up against…

So many of them genuinely believe that it will be easier to achieve a ‘social Europe’ in an organisation in which:

  1. Two thirds of the states within the organisation have right-of-centre governments.
  2. The majority of leaders of those states are right-of-centre politicians.
  3. All politicians in the Commission are unaccountable to the public via the ballot box and therefore have no motivation to please the public.
  4. The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is a right-of-centre politician from Luxembourg, who presided over Luxembourg’s transformation into a centre of corporate tax avoidance.
  5. MEPs have no legislative initiative, so even if the European Parliament were predominantly left-of-centre (it isn’t), it would still have no powers to advance new legislation.
  6. The UK government, whose Prime Minister speaks for the UK in the European Council is a right-of-centre politician.
  7. The ministers which represent the UK in the Council of Ministers are right-of-centre politicians.
  8. Brussels is crammed with big business lobby groups, all of whom have the ear of the Commission.

than it would be to do the following:

  1. Win a General Election in an independent UK, in which a left-of-centre government would be free to enact all kinds of ‘progressive’ legislation it is currently forbidden from doing through EU anti-competition laws.

Yes, apparently, regardless of all these factors, many on the left believe it would be easier to enact more progressive legislation in the UK through the medium of the EU by miraculously gaining a simultaneous majority of left-of-centre electoral victories across the 28 member states, having a majority of left-of-centre politicians appointed to the Commission, and a majority of left-of-centre MEPs in the European Parliament.

They tell me that they will vote to remain in the EU as a bulwark against the Tory government, because they fear what kind of legislation a Tory government in full, sovereign control would enact. That’s right: in their mind, it is better to have an unaccountable, supranational organisation trample over democracy–something which we have already seen in Greece and Italy.

I’m sure that they’re not motivated in the slightest by short-termism and that they’ve considered carefully what might happen if Corbyn gains power and then is prevented from enacting all kinds of his socialist ideals by the European Union. How deliciously ironic would that be?

It is futile to remind such people that any government which removed workers’ rights, most of which existed pre-UK accession to the Common Market, would not only face a mass backbench rebellion from MPs in their own party, in fear of their own constituents, and in all likelihood would consequently fail to get any such legislation through parliament; but at the very next General Election, any such government would be crushed through the ballot box by the British electorate, which has form in ousting governments which go a little too right-of-centre-y in the past.

But no. Much of the middle class Left will vote for a more largely right-of-centre, undemocratic organisation to make sure an elected, national right-of-centre government can’t be too right-of-centre.

The cliché goes that the Left is driven by idealism above pragmatism; that “if you’re not liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative when you’re 35, you have no brain.”*

But that, right there, is some impressive self-delusion. Presumably, they must be happy with how well the EU has prevented the worst Tory ravages, as they see them, to date.

Onward, comrades!

*The earliest known attribution of this phrase is to Prime Minister of France between 1847-1848, François Guizot: “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” It has been ‘localised’ according to its re-use over the years and is often falsely attributed to Churchill amongst others.

 

Euro Myths Unbusted

This post is in response to a posting by a friend on social media. I find it shocking that people I know are very intelligent fall for this stuff—it is no better than stuff peddled by tabloids. The meme in question is below and I have responded to each numbered point in turn below the image.

References are provided. Where secondary sources are used, the source provides links through to primary sources wherever possible.

image

1. Our laws go back hundreds of years. It would hardly be surprising that 13% had the EU’s involvement, but given the relatively small number of years we’ve been a member, this has precisely the opposite signifiance than intended!

But let’s give this statement the benefit of the doubt and assume it refers to recent and ongoing legislation. The figure is misleading, as it leaves out EU regulations (as distinct from EU directives). Regulations pass directly into UK law without touching the democratically elected House of Commons. See https://fullfact.org/europe/two-thirds-uk-law-made-eu/ for details. FullFact estimate the figure to be 62%, which is closer to the (admittedly exaggerated) claims made by some advocates of Brexit than to the advocates of Bremain.

2. Laws are made by the Commission, which is the executive. The European Parliament and Council have a means of providing feedback (in a similar way the House of Lords can influence the House of Commons), but ultimately, it is the Commission which is the executive of the EU. None of the Commission’s members are publicly elected, but are all appointed by member states, all take an oath to defend the interests of the EU above those of their own nation, and the Commission is accepted or rejected en masse by the European Parliament. Past commissioners have included people with failed domestic political careers and people with criminal convictions.

The Commission can not be removed or voted in through the ballot box by European citizens. It is therefore not directly elected in the way most executives are in modern, European democracies. In short, its members are indeed unelected bureaucrats.

The European Parliament, unlike a traditional parliament, can not propose legislation, but can only vote on legislation put before it by the Commission. Put simply, the only people in the EU institutions who we elect to represent us are not able, quite literally, to represent us.

Then there are policy areas where the Council may consult the Parliament, but is not even bound by its decision.

We need only take a look at the EU’s handling of Greece and Italy in recent history to judge its adherence to democratic principles.

But let’s just cut to the chase on this one with a simple question. How does the European Union electorate elect or remove a Commission, i.e. the EU government, to or from power?

Answer that honestly, understand how that differs from how modern, democratic, European electoral systems work, and perhaps you’ll understand why principled democrats on all political sides oppose the EU.

3. The Norwegians and Swiss have to abide by U.S. trade regulations when selling into the U.S., by Japanese trade regulations when selling to Japan, by Chinese trade regulations when selling into China. Somehow they manage, because many trade regulations are regulated outside the control of the European Union, through multilateral trade deals and international, multilateral trade bodies and standards organisations.

Regarding standards: IT standards, motoring standards, and other commonplace standards were not devised by the EU, but by innovators, business consensus, and the market around the world. It is these standards which must ordinarily be met by businesses, and many of them are set by organisations such as the ISO or quite simply by customer demand.

But back to the point on Norway and Switzerland, because seemingly, according to many Bremainers, these are the only models for nations outside the EU, despite there being 168 non-EU countries in the world. Let’s take a look at a typical example of how the discussion around Switzerland’s and Norway’s relationship with the EU goes, taken from an episode of the Daily Politics (https://youtu.be/hgrB2yAPPlQ?t=4m37s).

Andrew Neil: “I’ve looked at the EFTA Secretariat, which compiles these figures and the EU doesn’t in any way dispute them. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 52,183 legal instruments issued by the EU. Norway adopted 4,724, that’s 9%. Where does the 75 [%] come from?… Only 100 [0.19%] of these changes required primary legislation in the Storting [the Norwegian parliament].”
Andrew Neil: “How many EU rules does Switzerland write into its law?”
Matthew Hancock: “Well, actually I haven’t got the figure on that.”
Andrew Neil: “Well, I can tell you. It’s 0 percent.”

Andrew Neil: “If not having access to the Single Market is such a disadvantage, and as you say, Switzerland doesn’t have it, how come per capita Switzerland exports five times as much as we do?”
Matthew Hancock: “Because, err… Switzerland is physically much closer and surrounded by the European Union.”

Yes, Hancock really did say that – in the era of globalisation. That video is a lesson in knowing when you’re on the ropes in a debate and when to stop digging.

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, and is forecast by some to overtake Germany in the coming years to become the fourth largest. Switzerland is the 20th largest economy and Norway is 27th (or 25th, if you use UN rather than IMF/World Bank figures). See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)

But there are those of course who assert that money isn’t everything; that it is easy to know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Switzerland and Norway are the 1st and 4th happiest countries in the world according to the 2015 United Nations World Happiness Report. Iceland, another non-EU European country is 2nd. See http://worldhappiness.report/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/04/WHR15.pdf

So either Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway are rich and happy or poor and happy, but either way, they’re clearly very happy indeed – despite being European nations which have declined to join the EU happy club.

Ultimately though, Norway and Switzerland negotiated their own bilateral deals with the EU, because sovereign states get to do that sort of thing. Norway and Switzerland opted into Schengen, whereas the UK didn’t. In February 2014, the Swiss people voted in a referendum to return to immigration quotas. Due to the Swiss constitution and Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, it is ultimately people, not politicians or businesses, who are sovereign there. Swiss politicians are obliged to follow the will of the people when expressed through the mechanism of initiative/referendum and so Swiss politicians (many of whom would happily join up to the EU, if only their damn people would agree) now have to do what it takes to make things work – and the EU is of course reluctant to play ball.

As I’ve stated above, there are 168 countries around the world which are not in the EU. It’s utterly absurd to suggest that life outside the EU for the world’s 5th largest economy would be impossible or even difficult.

4. Ah, the ‘toxic’ migration issue. Well, this issue is very complex, and if you quote very specifically on tax contributions versus benefit claims, this claim may indeed seem to stand up to scrutiny on the basis of one report, but there is no consensus on this and there have been conflicting studies. See http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/08/are-migrants-good-uk-economy. Core conflicts around the financial pros of immigration revolve around GDP figures per capita versus overall GDP.

But immigration should never be considered solely on the basis of monetary considerations. The last year saw record net migration figures of 330,000 (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/migration-statistics-quarterly-report/august-2015/sty-net-migration.html). The effects of this in terms of wage suppression, infrastructure, housing, environment, demand on services, schools, career prospects for UK natives, and social cohesion seem to all too often take a back seat in this discussion.

Proponents of mass migration as a means to deal with the demographic issues of a low birth rate also seem to conveniently forget that people age, so if you import several hundred thousand young workers now, you will end up with several hundred thousand pensioners in a few decades, and so on.

If you open up an unregulated employment market to people from vastly disparate economies, what effect to you think this has on those in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs? It’s relatively easy to find research which would validate this narrative or research which concludes that the effect is negligible, but it’s also obvious to those who mix with people outside the middle classes that times have been tough for many indigenous workers when they are competing against people from EU nations where the minimum wage is one tenth that of the UK and who will gladly work at the minimum possible wage indefinitely, thereby keeping all wages low. See http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/File:Minimum_wages,_January_2016_%28%C2%B9%29_%28EUR_per_month%29_YB16-II.png for a comparison of minimum wages around the EU.

And that’s not a slur at all on foreign workers, many of whom have a superb work ethic – it’s just an economic reality.

Similarly, the economics involved in NHS trusts deciding to take on foreign labour (80% of in 2014) is simple economic pragmatism on their part. If they can easily employ foreign nurses rather than incur the costs of training indigenous nursing staff, why would they not?

Head of the Royal College of Nursing, Dr Peter Carter, said that there were 57,000 applicants for 20,000 nurse training posts in 2014. He commented:

“Isn’t that a matter of huge regret that you’ve got people in the four countries of the UK who want to train as nurses. They’re being turned away, while we’re going off and raiding the often impoverished workforce of other countries.” (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-33678773)

Migration Watch, an independent and non-political organisation, offers a Summary Fact Sheet regarding migration at http://www.migrationwatchuk.org/briefing-paper/250, which tackles some of the issues around migration, quoting ONS sources.

Overpopulation has long-since been recognised as detrimental to society and following Malta, England (not the UK) is already the second most densely-populated country in the European Union.

In the last few months, I note an increasing amount of house building going on around nearly every town I go through. My home town alone has two huge ongoing developments on former green field sites on its outskirts. The house-building necessary to meet the requirements of this increase in population means more asphalt covering more fields and consequent run-off of water unable to drain naturally away where it falls. And as we know, flooding exacerbated by run-off is becoming more of an issue on an almost annual basis now.

The whole subject of migration is extremely complex and has wide-ranging effects, many of which are without doubt positive. But it seems strange that on the one hand many will gladly be wholly pro immigration, but then fail to make a connection when market forces cause large companies (such as those represented by the pro EU and historically woefully wrong CBI – see http://capx.co/find-out-what-the-cbi-thinks-and-do-the-opposite/) to seek cost reductions by employing cheaper labour from overseas or moving operations overseas and thereby close down British companies, much to the annoyance of these very same people who were willingly or unwillingly advocating global market forces in the first place!

I can’t help but note the number of people who are unashamedly pro-EU and yet, without the slightest hint of irony, express outrage at the current crisis around the steel industry and the government’s inaction!

5. Naturally, if the EU has been legislating, one would hope that at least some of its legislation would be beneficial to people! I’m more than happy to concede the point that it has helped ordinary people in some respects, although I can’t help recalling in my own experience that I could use my mobile phone data allowance in Switzerland (outside the EU), but not in Germany, and that, having proof of employment there, I was able to live and work in Switzerland on three separate occasions with no problem at all, years before Schengen.

In terms of how the EU has benefitted my wider community, we could of course open this up to ask how it helped Peugeot workers in Coventry when operations moved from Coventry to Slovakia – with EU support. You’d be foolish not to recognise that lower wages in Slovakia were a huge factor in the decision for Peugeot to move, but of course, in the grand scheme of thinking above and beyond the future of local car workers, that was the right decision, and from a large business perspective, it was of course a great cost-reduction. It is hardly surprising then that many large businesses support EU membership, is it? In its defence, the EU denied the move was funded by £78 million from its structural and cohesion funds (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/coventry_warwickshire/4936696.stm), but I don’t see why it should be so shy about this. It should be brave enough to openly promote the redistribution of wealth from the richer countries of Europe to the poorer ones, because that is precisely what it does and that is precisely its point. If you’re a full-on EUphile, why would you care about local car workers when there are workers in Slovakia to worry about? Sod the local working class when there are wider, idealistic, internationalist (or at least continentalist) considerations!

In all seriousness, if you take the view that money should be redistributed from wealthier, more productive economies to poorer and less productive economies, the EU has historically undoubtedly done a pretty good job in raising the living standards of the poorer EU nations over the last few decades. If you are happy that taxes of your fellow countrymen should go into building nice, new roads in Bulgaria and Romania rather than be put into transport infrastucture in the UK, that’s an absolutely legitimate view to have. It’s not one I share, as it goes, for all sorts of reasons—principally that old notion of no taxation without representation.

Back to the main point. Are we really saying that policies which are beneficial/progressive can not be made by national governments? I keep hearing people state that they would rather remain in the EU, because they are worried about what the Tories would do given a free hand. In essence, whether they realise it or not, they’re advocating the concept that an unelected organisation holds power over elected politicians, while they happen to think they agree with the aims and objectives of the unelected organisation, that is. I’m not sure how they’ll feel if/when the EU goes all-out corporatist (TTIP anyone?) and a left-wing government is in Downing Street. You can forget any notions of state protectionism and interventionism under the EU’s rules, so I’m not sure how many on the political left who are pro-EU square that circle in their own minds.

In my own, admittedly anecdotal experience, the most commonly-heard pro EU statement is “so long as they fight the Tories, I’m in favour of remaining in the EU”. This is generally accompanied by utter ignorance over how the EU operates, but so long as the EU is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be a bulwark against the actions of the current UK government, and in their short-term interests, that’s a good enough reason to sacrifice long-term democratic principles. We’ll ignore the obvious question as to why a Conservative government would be pro-EU if it felt in any way that EU membership were to the detriment of its policies.

The NHS, pensions, paid holidays, public holidays, maternity leave, and trade unions all pre-date UK accession to the European Union (or Common Market as it was when the UK joined) and many such social benefits (and more besides) are enjoyed by countries outside the European Union too. Again, progressive policies are not driven by the EU, but by public, societal demands and evolving, wealthier societies—oh, and public pressure on politicians who have to win votes, of course. Ask yourself to what extent politicians who need not fear the ballot box have to work in the public interest.

This latter point is key, the Commission does not have to appeal to the wider general public in a society. It can operate in the interests of large business and further disenfranchisement of the EU electorate pretty much at will. On the other hand, what do you think would happen to a UK government which tried to repeal existing rights? Do you really think they’d even dare to stand on such a platform? Do you think that they’d remain in power in the following general election, assuming they could even get such messures through parliament? Currently, when things go wrong, the government can point to Brussels and say “nothing to do with me – it’s out of my hands.” Regardless of whether this is true or not in individual cases (it most certainly is in the case of governments being forbidden from offering state support to companies), it nevertheless means that elected politicians in the UK can use the EU as an excuse.

Were a UK government wholly accountable for its actions to the electorate, do you not consider that it might have to be a little more cautious with its actions?

Post World War 2, the British public voted to remove a war hero from government and replace him with a Labour government. Even in light of the success of Churchill, he was not immune from the power of the ballot box and public desire for real change, including, of course, the foundation of the NHS under the ministry of Clement Attlee.

I have a great deal of faith in the British public. I think it’s fair-minded, and history appears to validate that supposition. A wholly right-wing, socially conservative and mean-spirited government would not last long in an independent UK – least of all if it started to enact laws which were detrimental to a large section of the electorate! Britons have a strong cultural sense of standing up for the “little man” (as epitomised in our comedy culture going back centuries) against the bullying upper middle classes. When the latter push too far, the public has a strong sense of restoring equilibrium through the ballot box.

6. The trends are important here. The EU’s share of global GDP has fallen from 30% in 1993 to 24% in 2013 with the emergence of the BRIC and other economies. See http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/international-transactions/outward-foreign-affiliates-statistics/how-important-is-the-european-union-to-uk-trade-and-investment-/sty-eu.html. We also remain a net importer from the EU (see https://www.uktradeinfo.com/Statistics/OverseasTradeStatistics/Pages/EU_and_Non-EU_Data.aspx) and this trade deficit has grown in recent years, meaning quite simply that there is more money in the EU trading with the UK than there is in the UK trading with the rest of the EU. Following a Brexit, you can bet that the heads of BMW, Volkswagen, and Bosch (among many others) will be demanding a favourable trade agreement between the EU and the UK! It is not UK jobs, but EU jobs which are most at risk from any kind of petty, vindictive action on the part of the EU following a Brexit.

It is certainly true that a small majority of our exports go to the EU (see http://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/profile/country/gbr/#Destinations), but that should hardly surprise us, and broken down by nation, only five EU members are larger export destinations than China. Then we need to consider the Rotterdam Effect, meaning that the figures for the Netherlands are hardly reliable, given up to 50% of exports to the Netherlands are destined for wider export outside the EU from the port of Rotterdam (see http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/uktrade/uk-trade/december-2014/sty-trade-rotterdam-effect-.html).

The 3.5 million jobs thing is a carefully-phrased hint to make people believe that 3.5 million jobs are reliant on EU membership. You’ll note that the above graphic is careful how it words this.

“Half of Britain’s exports destined for the EU account for 3.5 million jobs”

This does not mean that these jobs are at risk from Brexit. This is a long-discredited myth that simply will not die. Well done to the Bremainers who continue to use it, because it immediately flags up where they’re coming from for everyone in the know to see.

This assertion originates from a distortion of a report carried out by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), commissioned in 1999 by the pro-euro lobby. The then director of the NIESR angrily dismissed this interpretation of his organisation’s report as “pure Goebbels”. The fact is that the jobs rely on trade with the countries which comprise the EU, not membership of the EU. It’s really not a difficult concept to grasp and the continued perpetuation of this myth no longer serves any purpose than as a means of quickly and easily identifying disingenuous or ill-informed Bremainers.

Dealing with the effect of Brexit though, see https://fullfact.org/economy/do-three-million-uk-jobs-rely-directly-our-place-eu/ for a wider explanation, but to quote from that article,

The most recent report Full Fact could find was conducted by Civitas in 2004. This provided an assessment of all the previous reports and concluded that “the economic impact of British withdrawal from the EU would be marginal—less than one per cent of GDP. Putting it another way, these three studies find that, for the UK, the net economic benefits of EU membership are at best marginal.”

7. I’m not one of those people who conflates the ECHR with the European Union, although it is worth mentioning that membership of the European Union requires members to subscribe to the ECHR, so therefore one must comply with the rulings of the ECHR to be a member of the EU.

In contrast, it is entirely within the remit of an independent nation to determine whether or not is should be bound by the ECHR. There are concerns of ECHR rulings relating to over-zealous application of rulings in favour of known extremists, but I concede that these fall outside the general scope of the EU and of this discussion, and I agree that fellow Brexiters should stop conflating the ECHR with the EU.

Importantly though, I’m not one of those people who conflates the ECHR with the European Court of Justice, which is an institution in the European Union, and which will of course interfere in domestic issues when decisions made by nation governments in the best interests of their citizens do not work in the best interests of the European Union.

8. Quite. All EU states do have different languages, cultures, histories, and laws. They also have different demographics, business sectors, world outlooks, cultural ties with nations outside the EU, and priorities, many of which are shaped by language, culture, history, and law and none of which are properly served by ‘one-size-fits-all’ empire-building mentality which invariably leads to constant compromises to the detriment of leading countries in certain sectors, and makes for an extremely slow, cumbersome, undemocratic, and unsatisfactory legislative process.

The founders of the EU wanted to establish a United States of Europe, but Europe is not analogous to North America before the creation of the United States of America, where a modern state was built where no such state already existed, and where incomers adapted to a common set of US legal and societal norms which had already been determined and did not have these imposed on them. Europe already exists as a set of proud nation states, each with its own political and legal framework, cultural differences… and centuries of history. You can’t force disparate European peoples into a supranational union against their will, and the myth that the UK is the only country in the EU with a EU-sceptic outlook is both ill-informed and wrong, and ironically demonstrates ignorance over our fellow Europeans.

The EU’s motto is irrelevant. It has shown through its actions how it pays lip service to its stated policy of subsidiarity (or confederalism). Actions speak louder than mottos. Mottos exist to convince people of something and not to reflect reality.

To conclude, this kind of meme and propaganda is pushed by many who see themselves as broadly pro-European and wish to associate themselves with a young, vibrant, cosmopolitan world outlook; the kind of people who see anti-EUers as grumpy, moustachioed, fogeys, who long for the days of empire and are suspicious of anyone with slightly brown skin or an accent.

It is an easy and convenient cliché, and doubtless, these same people associate membership of the EU with holidays and time they spent abroad, sipping coffees in pavement cafés. Unfortunately, they don’t distinguish between the EU and Europe. For so many, they are one and the same. As I mentioned above, many of these same people (if not most) are clueless as to how the EU operates.

On a positive note, there are those of us who likewise feel very pro European. I consider myself simultaneously a Yorkshireman, Englishman, Briton, and European, and yes, a citizen of the world, come to that. I love Europe, its varied cultures, people, languages, customs and traditions. I studied and graduated in modern languages at university, on a course whose content was history and politics based. I’ve worked and lived abroad and am perfectly happy to have done so and would happily do so again if life took a turn in that direction.

But it’s precisely because I love the diversity of Europe, but even more importantly, because I value democracy and moves towards increasing citizen empowerment and decentralisation, not centralisation, that I opposed the European Union. And, having argued the opposite case a quarter of a century ago, and voiced the still omnipresent mantra that the EU needs widespread democratic reform back then, only to see things worsen in this respect light of EU expansion from 12 to 28 countries and increasing dis-empowerment of member states as a consequence, I now find myself arguing precisely for a British exit from the EU and, for a new Europe of independent nation states, working on a collaborative and multi-lateral basis.

You see, my concern in all this is not just for Britons, but for all Europeans.

Sturgeon’s Mask

I can’t work out whether the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon is deceiving Scottish people through ignorance or prejudice, because it must be one or the other.

An independent Scotland which rejoined the EU would not have much greater control over its affairs, all the more so since it would lose all the opt-outs the UK has historically negotiated and be compelled to join the euro and Schengen, as specified in the EU accession requirements.

In an independent UK, Scotland would have—because it currently does have—59 out of 650 MPs (9% of seats for 8% of the population) influence in its ‘parent’ parliament, and each of its elected members could propose legislation or become government ministers.

An ‘independent’ Scotland in the EU would have 6 out of 684 seats in the European Parliament, so would have a huge 0.87% of seats in the EP for 1.2% of the population.

Then you have to consider the relative powers and influence of a MP versus an MEP. An MEP, unlike an MP, can not propose legislation (legislative initiative) and can not join the Commission (EU government), as the Commission is appointed, not elected, and is merely approved or rejected en masse by the European Parliament.

An independent Scotland in the EU would ironically have significantly less influence, given the above and the fact that it would have small nation status in the EU.

A truly independent-minded Scot would campaign for independence from both the UK and EU. That I could understand.

I’m not an especially strong unionist in political terms. I have a lot of sympathy for those who seek greater powers to be ceded to Edinburgh and indeed further than that.

If it were up to me, the UK would be a confederation of states, on the Swiss model, with all powers devolved to the lowest practical level—right the way down to village level—and matters only shared up to county, regional, and finally national level where necessary or desirable.

But to swap relatively big influence in Westminster, where Scots often hold very high positions of office, including the PM on several occasions, for minimal influence in the EU suggests that someone is driven either by ignorance of how the EU works or anglophobia.

There’s definitely something fishy about Ms Sturgeon’s claims.

 

General Ignorance

Last night’s Question Time made for depressing viewing, based on the exhibited level of public awareness around the European Union and fears over Brexit.

The first example of stunning ignorance which jumped out was the audience member who once again parrotted the ‘three million jobs at risk if the UK leaves’ nonsense, despite that nonsense being comprehensively refuted by the author of the report from which it’s taken! Why is it difficult for so many to grasp the difference between jobs being dependent on continuing trade with the EU and dependent on EU membership? Nobody is advocating cessation of trade with EU countries!

The second example was the bizarre bloke who said that young people like to travel and wouldn’t like the idea of not being able to travel to other EU nations. No, really! He actually went further than the standard ‘all trade will cease’ nonsense and thought that Brexit would prevent travel to EU countries!

So these are the kind of nonsense ideas that are stuck in people’s minds. I think that those people who seek to remain in the EU (Bremainers, as I call them) have room for cautious optimism on this basis. I’m sad to say that this referendum will be won by a combination of ignorance and conservatism, and I genuinely fear that the UK will see many dark years ahead as part of an ‘ever closer union’ in which it will continue to play the awkward child. This is beyond tragic.

If you vote to remain in the EU, you should be aware that the status quo is not a viable option. You should vote knowing that if we are to remain in the EU, we should throw ourselves into it fully by joining the euro and Schengen. The euro members will continue to drive the agenda and those outside the ‘top speed’ integrationist nations will find themselves outvoted in the Council on matters which protect euro nation interests over non-euro nation interests. Staying where we are will build continuing resentment within the EU.

This brings me neatly onto the crux of the issue. There was one audience member who had done his homework. He had a pretty good grasp of the institutions and their responsibilities and touched on what I believe to be the heart of the matter.

For those unaware, EU decisions are made by the Commission and to a lesser extent, the Council (formally known as the Council of the European Union or the Council of Ministers – as distinct from the European Council). In the case of the Commission, none of its members are publicly elected – they are appointed. EU citizens do not vote for Commission members and they can’t do anything to vote the Commission out of power every few years through the ballot box in the same way that national governments can be removed from power if they become unpopular.

If you support this, I can only assume that you would be happy with a UK government chosen by politicians and not elected at all. The reality is worse than that, of course. The Commission is the government of the whole of the EU – not just one nation!

Remember too that the EU parliament does not correspond to our national parliament. There is no legislative right for MEPs. That is to say, an MEP can not propose a new law, like an MP can. The direct link between a constituent and the legislative process does not exist in the EU.

As for the Council, things took a turn for the worse following implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2014, which saw the introduction of qualified majority voting on nearly all issues. The Council comprises ministers from each member state’s government and changes according to the issue under discussion. Prior to the introduction of QMV, unanimity was required amongst Council members, but as the EU expanded to its now 28 constituent states, it was clear that unanimity over issues would become almost impossible and slow decison-making down further still.

So, now if a state is outvoted in the Council, a member state can (and does) see measures adopted which are not only unfavourable, but which are positively against its interests. Depending on the issue under consideration, this can have hugely negative implications. And, as a net contributor, the UK pays handsomely for the luxury of having its own best interests out-voted. This becomes all the more relevant when you consider that the core euro nations will always vote as a bloc in their best interests and against the interests of the non-euro nations. That isn’t even nastiness, but merely pragmatism on their part.

People need to really understand these issues around EU processes and the responsibilities of the institutions, so forget what you read in newspapers of any political persuasion – from the Daily Mail to the Guardian – they all have an agenda. Buy a text book or even better, just seek out primary sources on how the EU works (from the EU’s own website, if that helps) and if you can conclude from your research that the European Union is a laudible project, I beg you to persuade me of its merits.

As a former EU supporter, who fell for the mantra of “we need to be in it to reform it” 25 years ago, has lived through EU expansion and increasing disenfrachisment of EU citizens, and has a depressing view of this country’s future within the EU when it could set a great example to other EU states about the benefits of life outside the EU, I could do with a laugh.

 

Politically Correct Denialism

You can hate an ideology without hating all those who are born under its umbrella.

This appears hard for people to grasp, but then they are the same people who seemingly struggle to differentiate between religion and race; see no causal connection between Islam and an organisation which calls itself Islamic State, which is run by someone who has a PhD in Islamic theology from the Islamic University of Baghdad; and which carries out atrocities accompanied by cries of ‘God is great’ rather than ‘I strongly object to western foreign policy’, and whose thugs require that their hostages recite a koranic prayer to establish who is and isn’t Muslim when they decide whether or not to kill them.

Yes, we know. It has nothing to do with Islam. I am clapping my hands very, very, slowly. Keep on reciting that mantra to yourself; you’re part of the problem.

Look, I wholeheartedly agree that most Muslims in western societies aren’t the problem. Islam is the problem. Not only that, but most victims of Islam are Muslims themselves, both in direct terms as victims of warfare and (to an equally abhorrent level to those of us who value human rights above religious or cultural beliefs, or about hurting the feelings of the religious) those who live under the daily oppression of religion, whether under the discriminatory nature of religious law or due to societal pressures within religious communities.

Those of us who reject all religious doctrines recognise that there would be no Islamic terrorism without Islam, because there would be no means of using those particular teachings of a 7th century warlord, his view of how his god operates, and his acolytes to manipulate the easily-led into believing that they are doing evil things for an ultimately godly purpose.

Those of us who argue vociferously against Islam are doing so because it is clearly at the root of sectarian conflict within the Muslim world and a wider conflict with the outside world, and is the means with which people can be convinced to kill themselves in the real belief in an afterlife.

The people who kill themselves are exhibiting the ultimate act of faith. How many people do you know who have such a strong belief in their religion that they will happily die for it? Are we supposed to believe that people will willingly surrender their lives, proclaiming ‘God is great!’ because they’re displeased with western foreign policy and not because they have absolute faith in an afterlife? Who buys that narrative? Well, apparently thousands of people – even senior politicians.

I dislike rap music intensely, but I’m not prepared to blow myself up proclaiming ‘God is great’ as a sign of my unhappiness at being subjected to it.

We are told that faith is a virtue. Surely, then, killing yourself is the ultimate expression of faith.

This ‘ultimate expression of faith’ is why many of those of us who reject faith – i.e. belief in something without evidence and on the basis of geographical and temporal accident – will do all we can to fight it.

Some mystify martyrdom, making it out to be something more than the mere actions of a prick who is far better off out of the gene pool and is doing evolution a massive favour. In an inspired comment, I recall the words of a soldier in an earlier conflict against the ‘armies of God’ , who calmly demystified and undermined the whole woo around martyrdom by using the term as a straightforward euphemism for killing these idiots.

“Martyrs? Sure, we’ll help a few of them become martyrs.”

The term may be meaningful to those who respect the whole concept of dying for dogma, but to those of us who reject this, it’s a meaningless term and far from worthy of respect is worthy of nothing more than ridicule, or, if we’re feeling generous, patronising pity.

The only worthy martyrs in my book are those who sacrifice their lives to save the lives of others – the heroes who throw themselves on grenades to save a greater number of their comrades in arms.

So, to those who engage in this collective self-deception… Call my disdain for religion any ‘phobia’ you like to gain your social-posturing brownie points and back-slapping from your platitude-peddling buddies, but get used to growing numbers of us making a vocal stance against all faiths, and against one in particular at the current time.

We’re under no illusions that we can prevent people from believing all manner of several-hundred-year-old nonsense, but we can point out its absurdities and educate the young against it, fighting against the very respect for it which society still, STILL, in the 21st century, tries to inculcate in it through our schools.

We hope that as humanity evolves, it will finally exit this dark period of history and move to a time when people don’t define themselves and fight each other over who has the best invisible friend, or whether that friend is edible or not (one for the Christians there – just for a bit of balance).

Mistake our disdain for religion as racism if you like and on that basis, I’ll call your dislike of my favourite music racism too.

Trust me though, you’ll never have our respect while you sustain and side with pre-Enlightenment superstition and neither will those of us with any backbone be curbed from our ultimate desire to rid the world of superstition once and for all; to cast aside an aspect of our history which truly divides people and has caused millions of deaths.

Earlier last week, Labour MP Keith Vaz said he would support the reintroduction of blasphemy laws, a mere seven years after we finally rid our country of these ridiculous laws. Does it not even occur to otherwise seemingly intelligent people that an omnipotent being really doesn’t need to be defended from having its feelings hurt?

Your religion is important to you? Fine. Keep it to yourself and ideally let your children decide for themselves. Don’t expect any civilised country in the 21st century to even consider blasphemy laws. What’s next? Witch trials? I mean, I know they’re still popular in Saudi Arabia, but bloody hell!

Rest assured, I would willingly subject myself to the full force of the law in the event of the reintroduction of such a law. I would love to see an advanced, supposedly liberal society in the 21st century forever condemn itself in the eyes of future generations by prosecuting someone for insulting religion, merely to pacify the most willingly and pathetically outraged factions of society.

If you are willing to debate the issues, and you’re one of the very few who can do so without name-calling or building more straw men than the Crow Man, let’s talk.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

On an optimistic note, I am reading more and more about people in extremely religious societies, especially those under Islamic laws, turning away from religion. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those people, because, as much as many people in my culture appear to see all religions and cultures as the same, I am only too aware that speaking out against religion in many countries around the world can see you sentenced to death, and even where the state itself isn’t quite ready or prepared to carry out the sentence, it is more than willing to stand aside and let angry mobs carry out ‘God’s justice’.

I note that the #ExMuslimBecause hashtag has been trending in recent days. Not only are some decent Muslims brave enough to state ‘not in my name’ (yes, even objecting to the actions of ISIS can have you branded a ‘coconut’ by some enlightened citizens), but some who have been born into Islam are going one massive step further and abandoning religion altogether. Make no mistake, this is a very big development. Renouncing Christianity will have no effect on most people born into it (although there are still some less, erm, enlightened parts of the world where such a move could see you ostracised), but renouncing Islam – i.e. apostasy, does carry the death sentence according to the Hadith, and I’ve yet to see any believer deny this. So, those taking that step deserve massive support and respect from those of us who have already abandoned faith or never had it in the first place.

It’s perhaps somewhat ironic that ISIS, in attempting to foist the purest version of literalist Islam on those lands it occupies, may in fact be having a polarising effect and driving many of its co-religionists away.

To those who continue to act as apologists for religion, and especially those who claim to hold otherwise liberal values, if you’re happy to side with those on the wrong side of history, go for it. If you’re happy for your descendants to laugh at your support or respect for those clinging on to odd, Bronze or Dark Age beliefs, and for holding back human progress, fine. If you’re happy to facilitate oppression of those who are seeking to drag Islam through its own reformation by acting as an apologist for the most conservative and reactionary members of Islamic society, simply to validate your anti-western narrative, that’s your decision.

Just spare us the holier-than-thou social posturing and platitudes.