As one of your assiduous readers, Derek, I can only agree with you on the emotional case for the EU.
What stays with me are the words of my grandfather, who left Lanarkshire to fight at the Somme, and father, who left Orkney and ended up in the jungles of Burma : “we are voting for Europe so that you never have to go through what we went through in the war”.
That was in 1975, when the referendum was really about the issue of Britain’s place in the world and our relationship with our neighbourhood. Contrary to what people say now, it wasn’t really about the economy – few people understood or were inspired by the Common Market.
The argument was between those who felt more comfortable with the way things were in the 1950s, and those who thought that the doors were closing on a Britain clinging to a fast-fading Empire, willing to take the risk of opening up to the neighbours.
You often say you are mystified by the ways of Brussels – maybe you are ‘othering’ the EU in the way that you rightly criticise our political leaders for. But if I could say to my grandfather that British, Germans and French, a Spain liberated from fascism, not to speak of the now independent countries that they had never heard of, were working together in the same town, the same building, the same corridor, the same offices, not fighting but talking, he would say – it’s a miracle!
Every day that ‘Brussels bureaucrats’ come to work together to find solutions – in those meetings that you find so boring or incomprehensible – is a miracle day for the people who fought in the trenches and jungles.
Every boring discussion about product standards, police cooperation, the rights of working people, energy saving lightbulbs, mobile phone charges, bankers’ bonuses, clean air, research cooperation, is a testimony to those who fought for our freedom. Each one, a tiny step to paying back the enormous debt we owe them.
Each Member State of the EU has committed to provide consular protection to the citizens of any other Member State. If I could say to my grandfather now – “Papa, if ever you’re in trouble abroad and you can’t get to the British Embassy, go to the Germans, they’ll look after you” – he would have tears in his eyes.
And for all the talk about the lack of democracy in the EU, not one decision can be taken by bureaucrats. They all have to be taken by elected people – in the European Parliament, or by elected national ministers in the Council.
No proposal to change any law can be made without publishing details about how it might affect people and what the costs and benefits are. You can ask for and get the emails of European Commission staff involved in preparing decisions, the minutes of meetings, who lobbied for what.
For all the talk about not being able to remove the bureaucrats, the sacking of the European Commission in 1999 is probably the only example in the world of an entire civil service being removed by elected people. What could we say about Westminster ‘taking control’ of its own bureaucracy.?
Just because people can’t be bothered to follow this, or say “it’s so complicated” doesn’t mean that it’s not democratic.
But it could be made so much better. Open up the hidden places in the EU – the lobbying, the ‘technical’ discussions where the opinions of Member States are never revealed, the conflicts of interest of members of parliament. Get people involved in shaping ideas and challenging public officials.
Shine a light on the dark places, and the EU can be better.
Ah, but what about Greece, then – or TTIP ?
Well, Greece asked for 300 billion Euro and got it – but the awful conditions were not imposed by Brussels but by elected politicians fearful of their taxpayers and voters. The crazy austerity came from the conservative ideology of elected leaders – of exactly the same type as we have governing from Westminster.
The same happened with TTIP – but it hasn’t got through yet. Almost 3 million people across Europe are involved in a campaign to remove the worst aspects of TTIP. The European Parliament can vote it down. They’ve already forced the light to shine on the issues at stake. But it’s just as much a fight in each country – especially in the UK where the government is pushing for the talks to be concluded as soon as possible. No group of people in a single country on its own can resist this. But together, it’s possible.
So what about immigration then ? The only way to cut immigration in the long term is to invest in the skills of British workers, to provide proper child care so that women can work more easily, to encourage the innovation and new ideas that generate growth. Those are all decisions taken by national governments, not the EU. If the EU can do anything, it could provide a service by helping countries work better together, to make the sum bigger than its parts – the economies of scale that working across boundaries can generate.
But our referendum has thrown up an alternative – to leave the EU, get rid of the immigrants, cut the growth rate of the economy and the number of jobs. Then we don’t need people to come. We can even go back to the days of net emigration, to help all those who say that our ‘wee island is too crowded’.
But since immigrants are net taxpayers, we’ll need to increase taxes now to maintain the crumbling NHS. Oh, and take back the 1 million Brits in the EU, mostly pensioners, who will have plenty of demands on housing and health services.
In the short term, when we can’t get enough people to work in the health service and care homes, or in the tourist industry, or in agriculture, we’ll need to get them from outside the EU. The nearest ones are Turkey, Albania, North Africa and the Middle East. More likely, from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. How long before anti-EU feeling turns to anti-Muslim ?
Surveys show that the people voting to leave the EU don’t even believe that it will really cut immigration. Their concerns are about something else – “our town isn’t like it used to be”. The closed factories, the delayed doctors appointments, the crowded schoolrooms, the declining health service, the housing crisis – none of which is anything to do with the EU.
It’s strangely reminiscent of the referendum in 1975 – people looking backwards, trying to get back something that has gone. And people looking forward to the things that they could get by working together.
Only this time, after 40 years of political leaders othering Europe, of nothing but bad stories promoted by a press with commercial interests outside Europe – even Boris Johnson admits that he made almost all of them up – who is left to argue the positive case ?
If there is a difference between Scotland and England, it’s that people know that Scotland is a small country that needs to work with others. Most of England still thinks of itself as a big country, an island of itself.
Enough for Scotland to exchange one type of dominance for another ?
Except that in Westminster, there are no written rules. There are no guaranteed rights. There are only subjects, not citizens. No nations that can refuse illegal wars or nuclear weapons. No countries that can escape policies they didn’t vote for.
The EU may have hundreds of pages of Treaties. Complex and boring ones. But they are written down. They are scrutinised publicly. And judged. They guarantee independent nations rights and votes. Vetoes over things like wars or weapons. Dignity. For the people that fought for our freedom.
(Courtesy of Alan. Dateline: Yesterday)by