Compare the Market!

Save! Save! Save! Vote Remain for the best deal in Europe! Make your money go further. Compare the Market and see for yourself – Outside the EU means higher costs, less security and national weakness. Vote for Dave and George not Boris and Iain – back your favourite brand of Tory…

And if that isn’t enough, remember, there’s always the threat of Hitler if we stay in and isolation if we go out.

What a choice and what a mess. The EU referendum is showing modern Britain at its shallow worst – all self-interest and money-obsessed – the country that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, right enough. And look at the champions on either side. They are the power elite of the UK, the very people voters have been rejecting across the continent as a kleptocracy, grasping and greedy while ensnaring the rest of us in never ending austerity. Millionaire business bosses and unelected Lords are hardly regarded today as the voices of reason. There is a cross-party membership but in Scotland the public face of Remain is mostly Ming Campbell, devout Europhile and all, who is seeing out the end of his political career in the gilt splendour of the Lords and is now more enriched grandee than people’s campaigner.

Mona Siddiqui of the hypnotic voice, is from the Great and Good Register of Public Appointments with establishment credentials burnished on middle class Radio Four’s Thought for the Day. (I think I’m right in saying both the highly intelligent Mona and patrician Ming were declared No voters which doesn’t speak much to a changed Scotland). I suppose on the other side Tom Harris is a man of the people. Or was.

There I go. I wanted to write a positive piece on the EU referendum and can hardly get started without being led down the path of criticism. In fact, the truth is there is nothing you can say about the unloved EU that doesn’t carry the sense of either failure or at best qualified success.

To most people it is a faceless thingy that does stuff they don’t understand…and it’s run by foreigners.

From the inside (I speak as an observer) it is an infuriating rabbit warren of subterranean complexity, of decisions that turn to dust on the keyboard as you try to explain them, of groups of suited, middle-aged men referring details from one ‘institution’ to another. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to ask after a committee meeting: What just happened there? Only to find that whatever it was, it isn’t binding, it contradicts existing legislation and will come before the plenary in Strasbourg next month where it will be vetoed by Spain anyway.

If you talk to the insiders they will laugh and say: Not at all. It’s really quite simple. And in a sense it is. It’s simple in the way a map of London Underground is easy to understand when it’s laid out in a stylised graphic on a poster. But get on the Tube and try to get around without knowledge and you’ll find it anything but simple. So I’ll stop this and think positive. Forget the EU we know and remember why it was born.

Until recently I used to think the story of post war Europe searching for a binding pact that would save the people from the unimaginable horror of another war was now officially categorised under Whiskery Old Tales. But I’ve changed my mind. First I still struggle to come to terms with the crushing of Greece by an EU led by Germany which, I’m afraid, acted in a bullying manner echoing earlier times. The relentless demands for repayments that will squeeze the life out of a European neighbour and set back for generations the social provision the EU was supposed to guarantee with higher living standards, benefits and pensions, painted a picture of a greedy powerbase blind to its impact. The behaviour towards Greece ignited a political insurgency that at times was revolutionary in its zeal. So far the rage has been contained.

Blame for the runaway borrowing and non-existent accountancy was laid at the feet of the Greek people but it was years of corruption by PASOK politicians and the pilfering of taxes by the rich sheltered by other European nations, that was the cause. The borrowing came largely from Germany whose lenders profited. The money bought goods from Germany whose manufacturers profited. The winner was the economy and jobs from which Germans profited. This is a Germany that never paid enough in reparation for the devastation of war. The episode was for me a distant reminder of how one-eyed and cruel one nation can be in dealing with another.

Then there is the refugee problem. This is what an organised group of nations exits to do – coordinate and cope, finding ways of working together on a shared programme to solve an issue. In this case, it is literally the lives of others fleeing from conflicts the EU itself, with its foreign affairs role, has done little to mitigate. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (now there’s a title) is the face of the Union’s relations with other nations. And it’s led by (quiz question coming up). No? By Federica Mogherini, of course. She replaced Blair’s Babe Baroness Ashton. Remember her? Still no?

Not only are these leading European politicians virtual non-entities, they appear to be little more than ventriloquist dummies on the arm of the American Secretary of State. Have you heard Mogherini berate the US for its Syrian policy? Or even the Russian Syrian policy?

The result is that one of the foundations of EU policy, open borders, has been swiftly and unapologetically wound up by countries who prefer razor wire to reason. When people risk their children’s lives in flimsy boats, when they are tearing down fences, trooping along the highways with their world in a carrier bag, we witness again the symbols of conflict last seen in the Balkans and before that in the 1940s.

Damn. I’m doing it again. So let me put aside the people and practicalities, the errors and omissions.

I wrote last year about my visit to Oradour in Haut Vienne, the village left untouched as a reminder after the Nazis executed the population. There, in the church where the women and children died and in the garage with its rusty Citroen where men and boys were mown down – there you confront the birth of the EU.

Because at the heart of the EU lies an ideal. It is shared humanity. It says that rights to safety, peace and prosperity cannot be guaranteed by one nation alone. History shows that route leads eventually to war – war of ideas, of trade and war of arms. It says that richer nations should share with poorer to improve all…that we all benefit from raising the standards of the lowest. We do it by redistributing our wealth – be it money, expertise or care for others. The ideal is that the people of Europe, from Greece to Galway, have a common cause and shared interest. The ideal is solidarity.That’s what I believe.

I agree it’s badly run. It is past time it underwent internal reform. It screams out for a PR and marketing overhaul. It desperately needs a human face – not men in suits running from limo to glass fortress. It expanded too fast. It fails to consult the people it represents. It has lost any sense of why it was created. It can do so much better.

Yet the EU is much more than a market. It is an idea, born at the same time and with the same meaning as the UN. It isn’t a plan to destroy nations but to free them to do what they do best. It has brought protection of rights, the raising of standards and freedom of movement. It has made us better people by looking outward, embracing difference yet still standing together. Whatever errors there are and no matter the level of hubris, the bedrock of the EU remains the shared interest of the people of the 28 member states, their peace and their prosperity. Even if the leaders have forgotten it.

Sentimental it may be but it goes to the heart of the referendum – ask which way the people of Oradour would vote if they had the chance today. And ask the Germans who executed them…






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30 thoughts on “Compare the Market!

  1. My thoughts expressed in a nutshell, Derek. Thank you. The EU currently is a disaster but needn’t remain so, but as long as the institutions – especially the Commission – continue to turn themselves into a self-serving fortress, the population will lose out in the face of the power of private businesses. It could be so different.

  2. I’ll be voting Remain, not because I like the EU, but because I believe England will vote Leave.

  3. I suspect that many of us, that read your site, feel very similarly about the EU. I know which way I will be voting – to remain. The EU needs a swift kick up the backside and some serious issues need raised, but how will leaving help any of that to happen? In the EU or not, we are still Europeans and they will still be our neighbours. We also know how ruthless or petty the EU can be… anyone who thinks leaving won’t give the UK (and Scotland, for that matter) a hard time in some shape or form are kidding themselves. We need to remain a part of the EU and help drive for reform from the inside.

    Germany’s heavy handed dealings with Greece really did make me reconsider my stance on the EU but it only made me more entrenched in my view that we need to reform it, we as the UK, need to stick in there and keep pushing for change. And for the record, this is very different to the idea of Scottish Independence… Westminster do a whole lot more dictating to Scotland than the EU does to the UK.

    Yes, the UK wouldn’t have to fork of X amount of GBP to the EU for our membership and so on. But do you really trust the UK government to fairly distribute subsidies to our own farmers? Keep in mind, a lot of the money the UK hands out comes back to help our own farmers. We also help subsidise other farmers in the EU. This in turn helps the farmers all earn a living as well as keeping the various nations fed. Any trade agreements will cost the UK dearly, Norway has already warned us of that… and an angry EU will make sure we bleed more as well. So any notion of being able to make savings by axing EU memberships is likely a falsehood. I suppose the only difference you could argue is that leaving would give the UK more power on deciding what we do with that money… but that control is soon taken away when Germany smack us with a very poor trade deal.

    The issue I keep coming across, and there certainly seems to be groups that fit on either side of the line, but many people in the UK believe we have some entitlement to be mighty and do what we want across the world. That our voice must be heard louder than anyone else… we were once a mighty empire after all. Then there are some people that accept the fact that the UK is a small yet powerful nation that does indeed punch above its weight in certain areas… but at the end of the day, we do not strive to be world shapers… they do not have a feeling of entitlement that the world owes them something. A feeling that nations need to work together rather than pompously shout down each other.

  4. The whole EU referendum saga is an exercise in deflection . We are being side-tracked by the self-interest of a few elite Tories as they battle for the right to maintain their stranglehold on the reins of power in this ”democracy” called Engl …sorry , Britain .
    Meanwhile a few well-meaning politicians are attempting to put the arguments , minus the prejudice , for staying in or leaving but are being howled down by the braying asses of the British free press and a cowed and sycophantic BBC, hoping to glean a few more years of ripping off the public with its TV tax by yielding to its masters in the Tory Establishment .
    In the end it will be a case of holding your nose and voting for the fat Tory b*****d or the thin Tory b*****d .

  5. Interdependent nation states working together as opposed to a dependent nation at the mercy of an uncaring state construct (which is where we’re at right now). One union can be reasoned with, or bargained with. The other quite clearly cannot.

    Until such times as we can have a discussion based on on Scotland’s relationship with the EU (and then after we see how that works out for us), then I’ll stick with an in vote. 🙂

  6. Excellent bitter sweet analysis, Derek.
    Thank you.

  7. I agree it’s badly run. It is past time it underwent internal reform. It screams out for a PR and marketing overhaul. It desperately needs a human face – not men in suits running from limo to glass fortress. It expanded too fast. It fails to consult the people it represents. It has lost any sense of why it was created. It can do so much better.

    This is a good and an accurate summary of where the EU is at the moment. I am going to vote to stay in the EU next month, but I am not going to do with any enthusiasm at all. The EU has clearly lost its way in the last two or three decades, and we need to update and renew a compelling vision of a social Europe, rather than a corporate and neo-liberal dominated one that we have at present.

  8. Excellent article, Derek. Explained the situation succinctly – something most politicians have not yet accomplished.

  9. Some good points in this article, but I’ll be voting to leave. Out of the UK, out of the EU, that’s what I want for Scotland.

    In principal, the EU is a wonderful idea, and you’d be hard pressed to find anybody arguing against that, but as somebody once said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    In its current form, the EU, like Westminster, is a corrupt racket. Further integration will increase the gap between the elites, and those at the bottom, and paradoxically, it will lead to more trouble and unrest, because if people feel detached from the political process…well…we’ve all seen what happens.

    The like other institutions of the past, will rue the day it underestimated the power of nationalism.

    A loose trading alliance with co-operation on security and the environment is fine by me, but a United States of Europe?

    Never, never, a thousand times never!

  10. Greece did not borrow from Germany. Greece/PASOK desperately wanted to be in the Euro, Goldman Sachs worked with PASOK to hide debt in a fancy financial vehicles (derivatives) which were sold off to various European banks with Deutsche Bank being a big buyer. Goldman Sachs then took out transactions that would give them a huge profit in the event of a Greek default. Note that heads rolled at DeutscheBank when this became public knowledge.

    The real problem is that the Brussels officials either
    1. did not see what had been done (incompetence)
    2. chose not to see it to allow Greece to get into the Euro (stupid desperation to allow Greece in at any cost).

    Until the EU reigns in the financial sector, there will be problems. My feeling is that Westminster and the City of London – the financial epicentre of this whole mess – are fighting any such changes tooth and nail. This whole Brexit/Remain farce is to try to hold off any changes.

    We will be better off if with Europe than Westminster.

    • Aye, but it doesn’t say Germany. It says German lenders. German banks including Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank lent billions.

      • Heidstaethefire.

        Aye, and the let the Germann and French banks off the hook and made taxpayers in Europe het for the shortfall. They undermined the democratic will of the Greek people, and were quite happy to kowtow to the power elite which breathes the rarefied atmosphere of Davos and the Bilderberg group, by signing the T.T.I.P. There is a cogent left wing case that can be argued for voting to leave. Despite that, I’ll be holding my nose and voting to stay. The effects of financialisation and globalisation are too big to be combatted by one country on its own. The only possible way of imposing some order on these people is by acting in concert with other countries. If the U.K. votes to leave, be assured that the posh boys’ establishment in Westminster/Whitehall/Square mile are not going to rock the boat. They would rather see London as some kind of northern Hong Kong, and dispense a few crumbs from the table to the rest of us. The only path forward is that of a reformed, democratised E.U, with, of course, Scotland speaking with its own voice.

      • Another factor is the way Germany has benefited from a (relatively) weak Euro compared to what would have been a strong Deutsche-mark and so has been able to export to the rest of Europe and suck in wealth. Also, there is no fiscal union and therefore no fiscal policies for the zone as a whole which would allow transfers to those areas in need. In other words, Ich bin alright Hans, to hell with you lazy, profligate southerners.

    • If you want to understand the EU, read “The Castle” by Franz Kafka.

  11. Steve Asaneilean

    As I have said before, I am a qualified remain. So I will vote to stay in but at the same time I hope this acts as a wake up call for the EU to get its house in order.

    So stop pandering to the demands of big business, the military-industrial complex, the power brokers, the would be autocrats and oligarchs.

    Started thinking about the ordinary citizens, both in and out of the EU. Push the social and equality agenda. Create a fairer and more equal community of countries.

    I think overall the vote will be to remain but this is really last chance saloon for the EU to get its act together because if there is a second referendum in 5 years time and nothing has changed….

  12. Again, this is exactly how I feel about this whole ridiculous mess. Spoilt posh boys sucking us all in to their ridiculous power-hungry squabbles. My instinct is, and remains (no pun intended), to vote remain, but I am sorely tempted to abstain because I truly feel it should be a plague on all their houses. The EU urgently needs reform, it needs to go back to its roots and sort out what it exists to do. I think there is an awareness of that. This re-imagining, in my opinion, is something we must be involved in. Reform of ‘our’ beloved Union, however, is, as has been borne out since the referendum, a hopeless and lost cause.

  13. I got my first referendum propaganda through my door a few weeks ago, from the “Scotland Stronger In Europe” group.Despite being probably the most pro-EU person I know, I have to say the campaign material was utterly dreadful, probably the worst I’ve seen for any election in many’s a year. The whole leaflet has been printed blue and white, presumably to emphasize its Scottishness, but they’ve picked the wrong shade of blue – a sort of washed-out navy reminiscent of a mark 3 Ford Escort circa 1982. And that’s as far the Scottishness goes because out of 19 points of argument made, not a single one is specifically Scottish or addresses the Scottish political landscape in any way whatsoever. The whole thing looks like a cut and paste job from some London marketing office and has a suspiciously Tory look and feel. But it gets even worse – incredibly, it turns out the person they’ve picked to be the chair of “Scotland Stronger in Europe” is none other than Professor Mona Siddiqui, who is neither Scottish nor in fact even European! A metropolitan, plummy-voiced, pinko-academic, twice-immigrant, southerner – hardly the sort likely to win over the soft UKIP supporter. I wonder which rocket-scientist came up with that one. Please God don’t let her debate on television or we might even lose.

  14. I would have preferred a four option vote

    1. To remain on the government’s newly negotiated terms.
    2. To remain on the current terms of membership.
    3. To ask for fuller membership including adopting the euro as the UK currency.
    4. To leave.

    Our arrogant government seems to assume that this is a two horse race where we should just turn up and vote 1 or 4 of the above without questioning the set up and construction of the referendum or the alternative options that have been left out. If option 3 was available I would not expect it to be popular in our current climate but it would be my preference and I would very much like to vote for it. Even better would be a ranked preference vote for the above options.

    Having said all of this I also believe that Europe is much more than the EU. I think that Switzerland and Norway are significantly better at being Europeans than England could ever conceivably be, in or out of the EU. I do mean England not the UK.

    That is the real problem going forwards, The largest part of the UK, England, is not committed to Europe, formally or informally. That worries me much more than the result of the coming referendum.

  15. At present I’m of a mind to vote to stay in the EU but my mind is by no means made up and I may yet decide otherwise. I started from a position of certainty that being in the EU was the right idea but with various things happening I’m slowly losing faith in the EU.

    The one thing that would definitely keep me in the pro EU camp would be a significant indication that the case for some internal reform of the EU is not only accepted across the EU but is actively being addressed.

    I cannot be persuaded that any further enlargement of the EU should be envisaged before the second half of this century, if at all

    I’m solidly in favour independence for Scotland and hopefully that will be within a streamlined reformed EU but I hae ma doots.

  16. “…the bedrock of the EU remains the shared interest of the people of the 28 member states, their peace and their prosperity. Even if the leaders have forgotten it.”

    They didn’t forget. They changed it from “the shared interest of the people” to the shared short-term interests of corporations, the financial and political “elite”, their “peace” and their prosperity.

    “…ask which way the people of Oradour would vote if they had the chance today.”

    We might well ask ourselves. We seem to be on the road to Oradour. A road paved with our leader’s short-term interests.

  17. I don’t see any indications that the Leviathan that is the EU is heading in any direction whatsoever towards reform. Being advised to “stick with it” because “change can only come from within” echoes so much like the false promises given to bribe people to vote against Scottish Independence. It is huge, it is distant. It also dictates key directives that our government must align itself with. Undemocratic, unelected officials ultimately decide policy. Yes, the concept of uniting Europe to prevent war isn’t a bad idea. But why must we be aligned politically? Why not have the free trade Canada & the USA enjoy without being joined at the hip politically? The UK voted to be in the European market, but nobody voted to join a Europe that was politically joined. No, that was left for wiser Boffins to decide on our behalf.

    • Robert Graham

      agreed and i believe a lot of people would echo your comment , those of us who voted were more or less tricked into this apparently trade only vote ,while the Politicians were activly working on something completely different behind our backs , can it be reformed who knows it hasn’t so far despite so much talk .
      I think Britain’s arms length stance to the EU has not benefited Scotland .and the admitted expendability of our fishing industry just goes to highlight this approach ,and any reforms will benefit only one part of the UK and it’s not us as we have no say , so our relationship with the EU is based on what England wants there lies the dilemma .

  18. Whatever your stance on the EU, it needs greater democratisation and accountability to its citizens.

    I would highly recommend reading Democratise Europe’s manifesto [1] and sign their petition [2] if you agree.


  19. To misquote Churchill. “The EU is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

  20. Bill Halliday

    “The EU referendum is showing modern Britain at its shallow worst – all self-interest and money-obsessed – the country that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, right enough. And look at the champions on either side. They are the power elite of the UK, the very people voters have been rejecting across the continent as a kleptocracy, grasping and greedy while ensnaring the rest of us in never ending austerity. Millionaire business bosses and unelected Lords are hardly regarded today as the voices of reason.” Just about says it all Derek. I’d started to wonder as that “power elite” that is international, not just here in the UK or even Europe, led by Merkel, neatly moved the blame on to the Greek people and enslaved them in austerity for generations to come. Then, after first welcoming in the cream of the crop from Syria she enters in to the “stop the migrant hordes dance” with Dodgy Dave and gives him the nod it’s ok to dump the Human Rights Act and anything else he doesn’t like as she quietly moves to exclude the also rans.
    As Owen Jones says it’s not a conspiracy it’s a mindset, shared by our power elite, If there ever was a conspiracy it was the time of the Friedmanites, the Chicago Boys that evolved in to a world wide belief system shared by a kleptocracy whose first theft was Democracy. I fear that larger units like the EU or the UK stand little or no chance of taking back their Democracy. Smaller units like Iceland and Scotland hopefully could.

  21. I find it incredible that people somehow believe that the EU in it’s current guise is somehow going to be open to some kind of massive reform for the benefit of the common man. How do you get to hold that belief, is it blind faith or complete denial of the policies in place for Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland, etc.? The EU is neoliberal to it’s core! It always has been and this truth has been deflected from by sprinkling a few nice social reforms on top to deflect from the vulgar economic policies running out of plain sight.

    Holy crap, wake up people!!

    The euro crisis hasn’t been solved, only kicked down the road a bit. Austerity in euroland is every bit as much a failure as it is in this country. There is no real growth only larger debts. The only hope for the euro in the medium to long term is a United States of Europe, complete integration.

    Personally, I don’t fancy the only real outcome that will stop the failure of the Euro project and wish to leave as soon as possible.

    Each to there own though.

  22. Cartoon in my Danish newspaper, Jyllands Posten, today. Silhouette of Churchill in front of a faded Union flag. Speech bubble: “Never in human history have so few said so much rubbish to so many”.

  23. A thoughtful piece as ever, Derek…but like you the treatment of Greece sticks in my craw .

  24. The EU was born with noble intentions with the European experience of WW2 very much top of mind. Agreed.

    It is now some Frankenstein monster of the original idea.

    “Let’s reform it from the inside”. Sounds good, but for that to work, there would have to be some appetite within the EU for reform. Is there? No. Even Dave’s meagre requests were stonewalled and they were simply a bit of tinkering around the edges. The people who run the EU – the Eurocrats – like it the way it is. They don’t want to reform it. Believing otherwise is just wishful thinking.

    You vote to remain if you think it’s fine as it is. You vote to leave if you think it isn’t. Because it isn’t going to change. It has no history of doing so, no stated intentions to do so, and the way it is set up, it’s probably incapable of doing so.

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