What a year!

It would probably be a good idea to make some sort of comment on what has been an extraordinary year in politics. So I'll start with the European Union.

I don't suppose anyone will be surprised to learn that I voted for the UK to remain a member of the EU. On balance I think the EU is a good thing, and in particular good for its member states ... although not so good for those countries who deal with it from the outside. It is protectionist in nature and, as a block of half a billion people in some of the richest countries in the world, it can afford to be.

But I wasn't totally surprised at the outcome of the EU referendum. The state of politics in the UK, and perhaps in the West as a whole, has reached a low ebb in which reasonable debate and discussion is drowned out by slogans, soundbites and personalities. In these circumstances politicians can get away with telling more blatant lies than they would usually be able to get away with. That was true on both sides. But the main factor was that the ground for Brexit had been carefully cultivated for decades, in particular by the media. However the media aren't to blame for pushing any particular agenda. If people on this island choose to pull the wool over their own eyes, then we have no-one to blame but ourselves for the outcome.

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Talking of "big picture" things; until the EU referendum campaign I used to think that the ever-rightward shift in political opinion that we've seen in the UK over the past thirty or forty years was primarily the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and her heir, Tony Blair. Now I'm more inclined to think that it is just as much to do with our membership of what is now the EU. In particular the move away from the state being a major player in economic activity in favour of the private sector. It's not hard to see why. For the EU to operate properly as a single market, to the extent that a member state of the EU is involved in economic activity, it becomes very hard to separate what the proper boundaries of such involvement should be, and it is all too easy for it to cross the line (wherever that line is) and become state aid. The denationalization of our state-owned industries and mass privatization of state assets owes as much to the EU as it does to Thatcher and Blair. In fact the two go hand-in-hand. We shouldn't forget that Thatcher was ardently pro-EU, and one of the main drivers of the move to create the EU single market.

It might also be worth saying that, so far as the EU is concerned, it has never "imposed its will" on us. The EU is much more of a democracy than the UK has ever been. Its policies are decided by the governments of each member state in the Council of Ministers, by the Commissioners that each government appoints, and by its citizens through those we elect to the European Parliament. I'm sure most people reading this will know that already.

I'm definitely on the left in terms of my politics and I listened carefully to, and had quite a bit of sympathy towards, the argument made by some on the left that if the UK left the EU, we would be able to do things that we would not currently be able to do as EU members: such as renationalize the railways or the power companies. But in the end I was much more persuaded by the arguments of people like Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM 25 that it is better for us to reform the EU through its democratic institutions than to walk away from it. Equally, if you agree with me that the EU treated countries like Greece shamefully, the way to change such policies is from within.

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But all that is water under the bridge. The UK did vote to leave, and that decision should be respected. I do not have a lot of time for the position that we should have another referendum to decide whether we want to accept the terms of any settlement of agreement. For any that do, I would simply ask whether you would want the same two-stage procedure to apply to a positive vote in a future referendum on Welsh or Scottish independence. It isn't right to change the rules half-way through. If, say, Scottish independence were to be subject to a two-stage vote from the outset, it seems clear to me that a large majority would vote for independence at the first stage in order to see what sort of constitution and institutions Scotland would have, and what sort of settlement could be negotiated with the RUK ... knowing full well that the only vote that really mattered would be the second. The whole exercise would just be a waste of time, effort and resources for all concerned.

That said, I would certainly not rule out another "straight" referendum on EU membership, if it became clear in future through opinion polls or general elections that enough people wanted to rejoin. It might be two years away, or ten years away, or never. In other words, I reject the idea of a two-stage vote, but don't object to another vote. That's democracy. In case anybody thinks I'm being inconsistent, I would apply the same principle to independence. I would have no objection to people in an independent country voting to rejoin the country from which they gained their independence ... but I would note that none of the 54 countries that have gained independence from rule by Westminster has shown any interest in doing that.

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I don't think it is likely that the UK will ever vote to rejoin the EU. But please don't think I'm being pessimist. Quite the contrary, it won't happen because I don't think the UK will exist (at least in its present form) for much longer. Scotland will be independent and Ireland will be reunited. I believe both of these events have always been inevitable, but the EU referendum will act as a catalyst to make both happen sooner rather than later.

This is the silver lining to the dark cloud of collective stupidity and self-harm called Brexit.

Perhaps an England whose leaders have finally been disabused of the idea that it is entitled to greater privileges than other countries will come to its senses and rejoin its neighbours. I hope so ... but that will be up to England. It's up to us in Wales whether we are content to go along with whatever England decides to do, or make our own decision as an independent country.

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2 comments:

Leigh Richards said...

"But in the end I was much more persuaded by the arguments of people like Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM 25 that it is better for us to reform the EU through its democratic institutions than to walk away from it. Equally, if you agree with me that the EU treated countries like Greece shamefully, the way to change such policies is from within". A point well made michael and which echos many of my own reasons for campaigning to remain.

Course for people like us there's also the little matter of the importance of the EU's single market to the welsh economy, two thirds of welsh exports, two thirds of welsh exports are to the single marker. That's why the so called 'hard brexit' would be an absolute catastrophe for wales.

"I don't think it is likely that the UK will ever vote to rejoin the EU. But please don't think I'm being pessimist. Quite the contrary, it won't happen because I don't think the UK will exist (at least in its present form) for much longer. Scotland will be independent and Ireland will be reunited" amen to that. And let's hope Wales joins them or we face a grim future as a completely marginalised forgotten part of a hybrid englandnwales state with a permanent tory majority - 'a naked people under an acid rain' indeed.

PS nice to see you blogging again.The welsh blogosphere needs all the progressive voices it can get right now.

Michael Haggett said...

Thanks, Leigh.

I've just written another post on subject. I certainly agree that a hard Brexit will be bad for Wales.

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