My Ninth Symphony (Andante)

You may say that the Scotland football team is what serial failure looks like – I couldn’t possibly comment. If you were searching for the very definition of grand-scale institution losing however, I would nominate the European Union. In fact I say Gordon Strachan’s men would beat the EU 5 – 1.

I don’t remember a time since we joined the Common Market when I’ve had serious doubts about the inate worth of the European Project nor a time when I felt it was right for us to withdraw. That is despite a mounting file of reasons for questioning what the great continental movement was really about and the counter-intuitive, mad-as-a-brush nonsense it sometimes produces.

On the face of it this is the embodiment of multi cultural internationalism bringing together disparate peoples and economies irrespective of language, religion, race or outlook in a huge collective effort to bring prosperity, democracy and dignity to 350 million people. On what grounds could anyone object? Interestingly the complaints, set against the declared ideals and objectives, look mean and self-interested – amounting to racism, cost, bureaucracy and managerial exclusivity. Every one could and should be easily dismissed by the leaders of a principled crusade based on sharing the spoils of the rich with the striving poor and opening up closed societies and market interests to transparency and driving economic progress. On the left the cry is Float All Boats – the EU does this. On the right the call is – Market Forces and the EU does this too.

But the complaints are not dismissed, easily or otherwise. The EU is a force in decline, divided and defensive – brutally conservative and contemptuous over Greece, riven with disagreement and inertia over migration. And, depressing as it is for myself, it remains a many-centred enigma beyond the understanding of the population it serves.

I have forgotten how many years I have felt the cold chill of rejection when trying to talk European affairs, either privately or getting stories published in the Scottish media or on air at the BBC. None of it felt relevant to the folk back home – there was always a more easily digestible story that trumped the convoluted statements from the environment or fisheries committee in Strasbourg. By the time you’d explained the process, the impact had gone. European affairs were a bore. How many full-time correspondents does the whole of Scotland’s proud media have in Brussels? None that I know of. I used to lunch with Ken Cameron, the Commission man in Scotland, and we’d always end up shaking our heads about Scotland’s (and the UK’s) failure to come to terms with the mighty sprawling beast that is the EU.

The tone of the power brokers over Greece shocked me deeply, to the extent that, unbidden, I found myself contemplating a No vote in Cameron’s referendum. If the EU isn’t for social solidarity and cohesion, what is it for? The crowing and browbeating by Merkel and Schauble appalled me – I, who had always looked to Germany for leadership when Britain did its usual weasel manoeuvres with its half-in half-out, what’s-in-it-for-me mindset that has embarrassed legions of public officials.

Then the deeply divided and flat-out racist reaction (yes, you Hungary) from some member states and the failure to coordinate a response when dead children are being washed up on our shores…

We need not be squeamish about motives here. The first thing is the obvious – humanitarian aid – unqualified and unwavering. And it ill behoves those whose nations have peopled the world in desperate times or for economic advantage to resile. Hungary, scrabbling to avoid its responsibilities today, should remember how its own people were able to escape the Soviet occupation…200,000 of them. And Austria, the country that welcomed them then despite struggling in post war conditions has forgotten how to embrace people in trouble.

Outside the EU, to see Israel building a fence to keep them out – the country that demands rights for its own folk wherever they are and takes illegal action to protect them, which calls out to the world to send their people to Israel (so long as they’re Jews) and which has shamed the world for the inhuman treatment of them in the war – now enclosing itself against the desperate looks to me like a people who’ve forgotten what persecution means. While Germany takes the laurels for an open door policy –and breaks the EU’s own rules to do so – it is also creating a new workforce for itself. There is pragmatism at work here. While Cameron looks to take 4000 a year from the camps, Germany recognises not just humanitarian need but the cold reality – those who risk everything to make their own way north are the driven ones, the aspirational, the strivers, already speaking English and sometimes German, academically or professionally qualified many of them, they are exactly what industrial states need. Sounds cynical? Ask the refugees.

This is all tricky territory. I don’t back Cameron but do back reform of the EU. I now think a referendum, however dangerous, is needed in order to clarity what we think the EU is for and if it goes near meeting those aspirations. The real risk of a UK withdrawal should focus minds in Brussels because Britain will have allies equally dubious and I believe this is an opportunity for the Scottish government to work with the Conservative government to find common ground in an approach to the EU. It cannot be the case that the SNP sees no argument for reform. But what is it and why the silence? I think a new direction and more democratic architecture is necessary to keep the EU in existence and remind it that its job is to serve the people of Europe, not the bankers, the financiers, nor the corporations.

I always argued that Scotland could be an ally for the rest of the UK after independence when our combined votes in the Council would be greater than the UK’s. Here is a chance to prove what a good neighbour can do. We may not be a member state but we are not without influence and Cameron, if his intentions are honourable (I believe he wants to stay in) could enlist Sturgeon in his case for democratic reform. Here the Kingdom could be United and there is no greater cause than preserving what could be the finest institutional collective of the modern era. But we may need to save it from itself.

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24 thoughts on “My Ninth Symphony (Andante)

  1. The SNP must not be seen as sharing the same platform as the Tories, no matter how honourable the EU cause.

  2. Steve Asaneilean

    I am with you Derek – the EU in its current form is dysfunctional and in many respects profoundly undemocratic (TTIP being merely the latest example).

    There are growing signs of a neo-Liberal takeover of the EU agenda.

    So it does need reform and I believe you do that from within and by leading from the front – not by withdrawal and carping from the side lines.

    So personally I am still voting to stay in.

  3. Neo Liberal UK or Neo Liberal EU? To this point I honestly hadn’t given it much thought.

    Gut feeling on which one may be the more open to reform? IMO the EU. Westminster will never reform and neither will the voter base which supports Westminster and the UK project. That small group of marginal seats which decide who gets to live in No. 10.

    As for working with Cameron and the conservatives? After their treatment of Scotland and the Scottish government over the past three years? The all out media war waged against the YES campaign, the demonisation, the smear, the naked racism on display?

    I’d doubt it very much. I’d rather suspect a separate pro EU campaign in Scotland from the SG will be the order of the day.

    • I incline to the opposite conclusion. Look at how the EU flattened Greece. Tsipras couldn’t have fought any harder, but he still had to take austerity. Chomsky says the EU has been captured by neoliberalism. The EU is several times larger than the UK, a much bigger dragon to slay. So I’m inclined to vote No. We in Scotland can have little influence on reforming the EU as an independent nation, no more than Denmark can. As part of Britain there’s a chance that the threat of a British withdrawal will force renegotiation of our terms of membership or reform of the EU. France and Germany are desperate that we stay, for the reason that the UK is the the third leg of a three legged stool, it balances the other two big players, France and Germany. Both of them fear that with us gone it will be France v Germany in the political balance.

      • Possibly.

        They certainly didn’t cover themselves in glory over Greece. How and ever we’re in the position of being tied to both intractable monoliths at the moment and we’re well aware of which one is and has actively worked against the Scottish electorate’s interests and which one has many national interests/voices who can be negotiated with.

        In the past I’ve always been more inclined to the EFTA view simply because I trust no parliament with that amount of bureaucracy and power, but as I say its a long time since I’ve considered the EU issue at all. Its been an issue I’d hoped to look at in depth as an independent nation where we could debate and chart our own decision on EU or EFTA.

        Head and heart at the moment? Head says pulling out now would affect trade and business links badly. They may suffer a blow which would be hard to recover from in this time of recession where the SG are looking to expand continental trade and business links.

        Heart says trust the EU hierarchy about as far as you could chuck em.

        I’ll have to have a good think on this.

        • EFTA membership has not affected Norway detrimentally. If we are part of EFTA there’s a lot you have to sign up for in order to trade – all the positive social stuff, employment laws, etc – but you keep your sovereignty and your currency. I will be voting No, on the basis that an independent Scotland can still be part of EFTA, and should the EU ever become democratic, we could always join at a later date. But influencing from within to reform, is futile. We are too small. The UK could influence it to reform, but not an independent Scotland.

        • Confusing times right enough.
          Even before the latest refugee crisis, there were worrying trends of right-wing gains in Denmark and Sweden.
          Meanwhile Spain the most brutal of the austerity enforcers appeared nay was moving leftward.

  4. You were going well until the last paragraph – Cameron, if his intentions are honourable.

    Regards the EU the treatment of Greece was a clear warning. And yes Germany astutely will enlist the motivated, well educated Syrians to further strengthen its industrial power.

  5. I think you are being optimistic if you think Cameron wants to reform the EU to serve the people not the bankers, financiers and corporations. I think that is EXACTLY what he is happy with. Where his issues lie are with immigration, wanting to choose who comes in to suit our needs only. He has been extremely reluctant to discuss what he hopes to achieve, because he knows he won’t get it. In my opinion the problem is that Britain always comes over as self seeking. Cameron’s reforms are not about improving the EU for all people but what he thinks he can get out of it for Britain and he makes no friends that way. Scotland needs to steer well clear of the toxic tories and run its own campaign.

  6. I am growing concerned with the EU and it does need to be reformed. The original ideas are sound and people would do well to remember what the driver behind this project was, as way of a hint it was a world war that devasted the lives of millions. On the other hand it appears the EU is being heavily influenced by right wingers, it can not possibly be right that a public health policy, i.e. Minimum alcohol pricing, proposed by a democratically elected government in a member state can be derailed because of business rules. A definite case of the tail wagging the dog and a reason to reassert control over this body. As for standing with the Tories to reform it, that he to be a joke. How can they be trusted, they want all the benefits of membership but do not want to accept everything else that goes with that. In fact they want to make it just about business and free markets and destroy the things that have true value.

  7. After Independence, could the EU be the only thing standing between us and a belligerent England?

  8. Cameron cooperating with the SNP?
    You cannot be serious man!
    The SNP represent everything that the Tories fear/despise….democratic governance and people having a say in their future.
    The Tories haven’t moved on from the old days of the caves and still hang onto the basics of fear of outside influences and the use of violence as the only solution to making these influences go away.
    Progression for them is using nukes and drones rather than spears.
    No thanks.

  9. Unless and until we get independence – no deal with Cameron’s Tories!

    Their utter cynicism during, and more especially after the Referendum makes it impossible, multiplied by their fraudulent “compassion” over refugees, whom they intend to chuck out after 5 years.

    The only “reform” Cameron intends is a return – not to 19th century values – but to those of the 18th. The Tories want the elite to monopolise power and wealth,to fight undeclared wars and to harvest the World’s resources wherever they please, to get away with private corruption and perversion without public challenge because they control the banks, the businesses, the press, the tv stations and the courts. They even have their own unelected permanent body in parliament – free membership to those who give a big enough bung, or are willing to make the “no more powers” case.

    No deal, no shared platform. Sometimes your enemy’s enemy is just another enemy!

  10. @ Bringiton, nukes and drones rather than spears.

    Cameron announced in Parliament today that a drone had killed three baddies – by his measure.
    The “Mother of Parliaments” concerned with global affairs, nation shall speak unto nation. Aye Right.

    Scotland really really needs to rid itself of this Union pestilence, and speak nation unto nation.

    Go read George Kerevan in the National today. And then listen to Portillo, son of an immigrant father.

  11. Like others, thinking of voting No, but no way can SNP work with Tories. Toxic.

    By the way, have a trip on the new Waverley Railway. I imagine Derek’s mind has been boiled by the thought of getting on tomorrow’s Special and listening to HM purring down the line!!

  12. The EU referendum is an opportunity to address the democratic and other deficiencies of the EU head on. The campaign for continued membership cannot be uncritical and happy clappy. Politicians must be pressed on their programmes for reform.

    I know it had its mind on other things, but the SNP’s campaign in last year’s EU elections was dreadful. It was almost totally lacking in content, and relied primarily on candidate selfies. It probably gifted David Coburn his seat.

    • IMO The main problem with EU elections comes down to the fact that people don’t know how the EU functions. We rarely see anything good coming from Brussels on our screens and in the papers.

      So, ignorance is the main issue that needs addressed. Perhaps a “Wee blue book of the EU”?

  13. You’ve got the right ideas, Derek, but you’re shooting at the wrong target. The real problem is the conservative ideology which infects a lot of national governments in Europe. The solution is to argue for the progressive alternative. But you just fall back on criticising the EU. All you achieve by that is to let the right-wing conservative ideologues off the hook.
    Take Greece – the basic problem is the austerity ideologues who are in power in most EU countries at the moment. They have succeeded in imposing their views – just as in Britain – with the support of most of the press and the political bubbles inhabited by the elites and the interests they serve. Only France and Italy – with governments of a different colour – didn’t agree. But the brutal fact of democracy – and we all want more of it in the EU – is that the minority, even if it’s right, can’t impose its will on the majority.
    Take migration – pretty much the same story, except that on this one, Germany is on the side of the angels. Others are the devils on this one. But you just come back to saying that the EU is ‘divided’ and ‘riven with disagreement and inertia’ – what a cop-out !
    You also want ‘reform’ of the EU and, amazingly, to cooperate with Cameron on this. But reform to do what? He actually wants more things like TTIP, less protection of the environment, no protection of workers. Whatever works to keep the right wing of his party quiet, not to make the EU work better. Just what kind of common ground can you see with that sort of agenda?
    It’s right to be angry about what happened to Greece. But it’s lazy to blame the EU, and self-indulgent to throw up your hands and walk away. Stand up and fight !

  14. I felt the same way over Greece at first. Later I went back to Michael Lewis’s piece “Beware of Greeks bearing Bonds” which if you can get past the stuff about the vulture-capitalist monastery, provides ample observation of the reasons to refuse Greece more money.

    I decided on balance Merkel was right, and incidentally that it really was breathtaking that Tsipras turned up to negotiations without even any plan for Euro exit, which would have been a practical interim solution, much as I’d have deplored it for political reasons.

    On the other side, Der Spiegel has a long article (in English!) that thoroughly explains how Europe got into the messy fiscal patchwork that left them improvising haplessly in the public eye:

    I’ve written before that I’m a Europhile. In a world dominated by powers of the scale of America, China and Russia, the route to economic, financial and military security is unity in Europe. I watch Europe standing up to America on Amazon taxes and Google and Microsoft anti-trust, and I see Britain’s subservience on the same issues, and I know which I prefer.

    I’ve also written, about half-jokingly, that in the spirit of no use of sterling, no use of joint civic institutions, no co-operation on anything at all and every effort to be bloody-minded that we were presented with last year, I feel like canpaigning for a British EU exit. Firstly because it’ll precipitate Scottish independence, but also because it’ll leave the remainder of the UK completely screwed.

    There’s a great (and nuch shorter) piece at Henry Tjoa’s Investment Mail giving a blow-by-blow account of the hedge fund raid on the Hong Kong dollar in 1997, and how only the backing of China was enough to save Hong Kong from losing its shirt:

    Sure, a small political power can operate without a currency peg, but the rate fluctuations are hell for international trade stability.

    TTP? The negotiations in Asia are subject to the same secrecy, and it is being used specifically as a tool to exclude China. A pox on it.

  15. (The TTP, not China!)

  16. Lastly, Patrick L Smith at Salon has been doing a great job documenting the actions of America’s hawks in the Ukraine, and how Europe’s (Angela Merkel’s) has been the restraining hand there. Does it get any coverage in the British media?.

    As of today, his latest is “Outright lies from the New York Times: What you need to know about the dangerous new phase in the Ukraine crisis”.

    This is the kind of thing you used to be able to rely on William Pfaff for

    William Pfaff, “Doing stupid Stuff in the Ukraine” –

  17. A no vote in the referendum under present circumstances would be a massive boost to emergent far right nationalism both in the UK and throughout Europe. Fighting austerity and neoliberalism requires a new vision of what a people’s Europe would look like. That is hardly going to evolve by supporting those whose basic aim is to turn the UK into a European Hong Kong.

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