A complete farrago

Farrago is a good word to describe the hotchpotch of confused and conflicting ideas that UKIP claim to hold. Their aptly named leader provided a perfect example of this yesterday when he said:

"The EU states will simply never agree to give back powers to the nation states. The EU wants more power not less."

Daily Express, 3 April 2013

Where do we begin to unravel this strange utterance? I could start by saying that the "EU states" and the "nation states" he talks about in the first sentence are usually the very same thing, making the sentence complete nonsense. I could point out that the UK is itself an "EU state" so that, by Nigel Farage's strange logic, the UK "will simply never agree" to any repatriation of powers to itself either ... which is again complete nonsense.

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So it might be better to ask why UKIP regard the UK as different to most other EU states. Nigel Farage has in fact touched on the answer without realizing it: namely that the UK is not a "nation state" at all, but a collection of nations.

UKIP's fundamental hostility to the EU stems from the fact that both the EU and the UK aim to do exactly the same thing. I fully agree with UKIP that we don't need both. I disagree with them about which one better serves the interests of Wales.

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The principle behind both the UK and the EU is that countries are stronger when they act together on matters of shared interest. But there are some very fundamental differences between the two:

•  The UK was mainly established and enlarged by force. The EU was established and enlarged entirely by mutual, democratic consent.

•  The UK is dominated by one country which, with 83.9% of the population, can impose its wishes on the remainder of the UK irrespective of what the other parts of the UK want. The EU is not dominated by any country, the largest has only 16.3% of the population and its voting rights as a proportion of its population are even smaller.

The structures of the EU are carefully designed to give small countries a bigger say. In fact as individual member states of the EU, the countries of Britain would collectively have much more of a say in the EU than the UK has at present. The UK currently has one member of the EU Council, one commissioner and 72 MEPs. As separate member states Wales, Scotland and England would have three members of the EU council, three commissioners and probably 88 MEPs. On current parities, Wales would have 9 MEPs (the same as Lithuania) instead of 4, Scotland would have 13 MEPs (the same as Slovakia or Denmark) instead of 6, and England would have 66 MEPs (between Italy's 72 for 60m and Spain's 50 for 38m) instead of 59 ... although this would be rounded down for all member states as new states join because the maximum number of MEPs is limited to 751.

•  And finally the UK is very much smaller than the EU. Why would anyone in Wales want to be in a single market trading block with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland rather than be a member, in our own right, of a single market trading block that includes most countries in Europe?

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7 comments:

Democritus said...

"The UK was mainly established and enlarged by force. The EU was established and enlarged entirely by mutual, democratic consent."

While I get the point this assertion is at least debateable. The establishment of the UK is generally regarded as dating from 1707. The Union with Scotland cannot reasonably described as having been forced on the Scots (nobody was threatening to invade, the 2 nations had the same Royal family for nearly a century). Neither Wales nor Ireland had ever been for any significant period independent soverign states on the Westphalian model. Both were gradually 'incorporated' into the dominions of the English Crown over centuries. The 15th Century Welsh Acts of Henry IIIV and Cromwell were aimed at codification of the established situation. Aside from the union of the Crowns, Ireland was only formally joined in the Union in 1801 - again on the Scottish model by the consent of the then Irish Parliament.

The EU by contrast is the child of World War 2. The central impetus for its creation (pace Monnet, Schumann, Adenauer etc) was precisely to try and ensure that the productive capacity of European countries, particularly in areas fundamental to a war effort (e.g. heavy industries) were so interlinked that it would prohibit any one member (i.e. Germany) from ever again being in a position to wage war on the neighbours. Also Farage is fair to say IMHO that democracy in an EU context is very much a bolt-on afterthought, hence no direct European Parliament elections until 1979 and continued reliance on a Treaty structure and the Council of Ministers. The EU started, and to a dangerously large extent remains, an elite project, driven forward by enlightened bureaucrats whose pro-Union zeal was largely a result of their experience and fear of the attraction to the masses of antagonistic nationalist rhetoric stirred up by populist demagogues!

MH said...

I'm glad you get the point, Democritus, but if you want to debate the detail it's clear that we're starting from different points in history. You start with 1707 if you want. But Wales was conquered by force long before that (whether it was an independent, sovereign, Westphalian state or not is irrelevant to me) and Ireland was conquered by force ... and together they are bigger than Scotland. That's why I said "mainly". That Scotland wasn't conquered by force was hardly due to any lack of desire or effort from empire-building English monarchs, was it?

We also seem to agree about the EU being established in a very different way ... i.e. not by military force, but in order to prevent its members using military force against each other.

I wouldn't say that democracy in the EU is a bolt-on afterthought, though. The idea of a body which is directly elected by people across all member states is, as you say, fairly new. But the EU has always been a collection of democratic member states which come together to decide things, in the main, at government level. It still is, and that is why it is important for Wales to be a member in its own right; because control of the direction in which the EU is moving is primarily done in the Council of the EU by ministers of the individual member states, and managed by the commissioners which the democratically elected governments of individual member states have themselves chosen. Whenever someone complains of "unelected EU commissioners" my answer is that there is nothing to stop any member state directly electing their nominee for commissioner.

Now of course there's room for more democracy in the EU. I think the EP will grow in stature, but only at the pace at which EU citizens engage themselves in European party politics. Most people (although I think the situation is worse in the UK than in most other member states) wouldn't have a clue about the party groupings in the EP, or be able to name a prominent MEP from another member state. This is largely because there is very little media attention given to European party politics.

But having said that there's room for more democracy in the EU, I'd balance it by saying there's an even more pressing democratic deficit in the UK. The majority of UK parliamentarians aren't even elected; and those that are are elected by an unfair voting system. No-one in the UK's glass house should be throwing stones.

Democritus said...

Can you show me a reference to the 'United Kingdom' in ANY document written before 1707?

I guess it would be fair to say that any soverign state existing before the twentieth century was established and maintained by force. I certainly can't think of counter examples.

You're probably correct about the EP, though we differ if you believe that pan European political parties are even remotely likely to be created. Even (in my experience) in other member states, the EU Parliament is seen as rather a joke, and its members as second raters. In Wales Plaid will probably be hard pressed to beat UKIP to quota next year. Is this why we are now turning our attention to them?

MH said...

I don't know if I could, Democritus, but I probably wouldn't try to. I think you're trying to pin an importance on something that doesn't really matter.

From my perspective, the State-ruled-from-London acquired some more territory in 1707 (by consent of the Scottish Parliament, as it happens) but carried on being what it had been before. What it called itself is irrelevant. The same State-ruled-from-London had previously acquired more territory (by military force, as it happens) when it had conquered Wales and Ireland before.

In reverse, the State-ruled-from-London has now lost the majority of Ireland but, crucially, carried on being what it had been before. It is very likely to lose Scotland in the next few years, but will carry on being what was before. It will lose the north of Ireland and Wales, but will still carry on being what it was before.

Perhaps the "State-ruled-from-London" is a bit of a mouthful, but I don't think it matters one bit what it calls itself. I like to think of it as the Black Knight in Monty Python. The loss of his arms and legs are thought of as merely scratches and flesh wounds ... and he just carries on as before.

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As for turning my attention to UKIP, I did it because what Nigel Farage said helped illustrate the basic incompatibility between the State-ruled-from-London and the EU, and why it offers Wales far less than we would get by being a member state of the EU in our own right. It fits my agenda of showing the advantages of Wales becoming an independent country. In case you were wondering, that is the main theme of this blog ;-)

However I think UKIP will do OK in the next European elections, but only for the same reason as they have polled well in previous European elections. Our media prefers to concentrate on national characteristics in its portrayal of Europe: the Germans are "the Germans" and the French are "the French" almost irrespective of the colour of the governments they have elected. This suits UKIP down to the ground, because it means that the UK electorate does not have any real conception of European party politics, or much of a grasp of the fact that people in different countries think differently not because of their nationality, but because of views on basic political values like left v right, centralism v decentralism, and liberalism v authoritarianism. It means that European elections become more about whether you are "for or against Europe" rather than about what political policies should be implemented in the EU.

For me, the recent rise of UKIP is much more interesting because it will accelerate the break-up of the State-ruled-from-London. Perhaps not because of winning Westminster seats themselves, but because they are forcing the Tories more to the right, meaning that Labour in England will then have to move to the right as that's where the new "centre" will be. The more England moves to the right, the more Wales and Scotland will realize that we have a better future as independent countries.

Democritus said...

Well those who criticise loose use of language by others ... etc.

To start from the bottom. The decision of the Lib Dems to jion the Tories in 2010 has created an opening for a new protest vote party. In England it's fairly clear that UKIP is now claiming that ground (whereas in 2010 it was concievable the Greens might have - incidentally there's very little evidence of any ex-LD drift to Plaid, despite both being avowedly pro- federal EU superstate parties).

I actually believe being in both the EU & UK is good for Wales and that leaving either would be on balance negative, but I fully favour immediate referenda on both questions (not in several years time, here, now, with the the options being IN or OUT). I'm modestly confident about the results.

If memory serves there once used to be a school of thought within Welsh nationalism which viewed the whole EU superstate project as anathema to the goal of a genuinely independent Wales which would have control over policy and actually do things differently from the acquis communataire (e.g. being able to actively discriminate against non Welsh speakers without the ECHR interfering). What Synaddiau seems to be advocating (good website BTW, even if we don't agree) is that Wales should be ruled from Brussels rather than London, but not that it throw off the shackles of both and rule itself from Cardiff (or wherever).

If we are in the business of choosing BETWEEN supernational states, then the issue comes down to balance of advantage. In that case it's by no means clear cut. Leaving either the UK or EU carries clear disbenefits (border & immigration controls, tariffs on Welsh produce, loss of transfer payments), so why leave on, but not the other?

On the purely political point I suspect Plaid have as serious a problem with UKIP as the tories do. Simply, UKIP puts Plaid in the position of being seen to be not anti-Rule from London (to use MH's term), but pro-Rule from Brussels; which I suspect is likely to be equally unfavoured in the Fro as it is elsewhere ...

Democritus said...

BTW, if you haven't seen it yet, you'll love Matthew Parris's column in the (London) Times today ... http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/matthewparris/article3732590.ece

MH said...

I'm trying to use precise language, Democritus.

I think there's some truth in saying that UKIP has taken over from the LibDems as a home for the protest vote, but there is a big difference between them. The LibDems are a wishy-washy, middle-of-the-road party, UKIP are a right wing party. LibDem success will not move the "centre" either to the right or the left, UKIP success will move the "centre" to the right ... and that is why they will accelerate the break-up of the State-ruled-from-London.

There is a general rightward drift in UK politics because if the Tories try to stay in the centre, UKIP will then hoover-up the votes of voters who lean to the right. But because there is no party to the left of Labour, Labour can afford to always take up a position just a tiny bit to the left of the Tories knowing that voters who lean to the left have no other party to vote for.

Welsh (and Scottish) politics is different from UK politics because there is an alternative party of the left. Labour in Wales cannot afford to move to the right because Plaid will hoover-up the votes of those that lean to the left if they do. There will therefore be an increasing rift between Labour in England and Labour in Wales, to the point where Labour in Wales will have no choice but to support an independent Wales ... not for nationalistic reasons, but because it will be the only way to develop a more socially fair and equal society.

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You're quite wrong to say that Plaid is a "pro-federal EU superstate party". There are a few members who appear to think that way (Dafydd El comes to mind) but it isn't the mainstream view, and it most certainly isn't what I think or want. As I said before, primary control of the EU rests with the governments of the individual member states, and that is why Wales will benefit from being a member state in its own right.

As I don't believe in an EU superstate, it means I am not advocating "rule from Brussels" as the alternative to rule from London. It's a false dichotomy. An independent Wales will be ruled by a government based in Wales. Given what has happened so far, that will be from Cardiff; but I believe that an independent Wales will itself need a structure of government that distributes power within Wales. The form it takes will very much depend on the decisions we take on the structure of local and regional government before we are independent. It's not easy, but Owen Donovan on OggyBloggyOgwr has made a very good contribution to that discussion in six posts last month, starting with this one.

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Thanks for the Matthew Parris link, but I've never thought the Times was worth paying for. There's a short summary here, and it looks like the same old same old. Spain will survive without Catalunya's industrial base, just as the State-ruled-from-London will survive without Scotland's oil and gas.

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