Posts Tagged ‘Referendum’

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Photo: Abi Begum (www.nwhomebuyers.co.uk)

Let me start by saying I’m no fan of the EU as an organisation. Its president, Jean Claude Juncker, has no popular mandate from the European people yet he presumes to speak as if he has total authority. Its legislature passes law that, if enough of our neighbours vote for it, can be imposed on us without the approval of a single British MEP — though in some cases we can veto it. Those laws are not always in the best interest of the UK. And the EU commission has seldom expressed an interest in addressing this issue.

That being said, part of David Cameron’s renegotiation deal changes the founding treaty of the EU so that it’s aim of “ever close union” between members now explicitly exempts the UK. What that means in practice remains a matter of debate, but in any case the transfer of any further powers to Brussels cannot happen without another UK referendum, as established under the European Union Act of 2011. This, given the economic cost of leaving — reaffirmed repeatedly by experts and entrepreneurs alike — made me incline toward remaining. What sealed the deal is the poisonous bile and often outright lies told by the Leave campaign in recent months.

Immigration

The government pledged to get net migration down to the tens of thousands. Its failure to do so has often been blamed on the EU and undoubtedly this is a factor. But the majority of migration to our country comes from outside the union and restricting this influx is well within the remit of our parliament. It has not done so. Could it be that there’s some sort of need for migrants?

The clearest illustration of this is the NHS. The Leave crowd moan about ‘health tourism’ putting it under stress as foreigners come here for free treatment. The reality is that it wouldn’t be able to function with migrants. EU nationals alone make up 10% of NHS doctors and, in all, more than 100,000 NHS staff are non-British. Big businesses, usually the primary concern of the Tories dominating Leave, have made it clear that migration allows them to fill jobs they wouldn’t necessarily be able to otherwise.

No doubt to ward off accusations of bigotry, the Leave campaign reasons that leaving the EU will make for a fairer immigration system, where those arriving from outside the union do not come second to those from within. We’ll be able to admit more skilled workers from Asia, Africa and the Americas they say. Does anybody really believe that a campaign which has crowed repeatedly about slashing migrant numbers actually just wants more from elsewhere? And aren’t these the same distant lands, according to argument, whose émigrés fail to integrate when they come here?

If not, why did Nigel Farage — perhaps the noisiest voice in the Leave campaign — use an image of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria to illustrate his claim that Britain is reaching, as he called it, breaking point? These are non-EU migrants Nige, give them a fair chance! Of course, these troubled souls weren’t in Calais anyway, they were on the borders between Croatia and Slovenia.

The Leave crowd also can’t seem to decide whether migrants are stealing their jobs, or sitting around unemployed and mooching off the state. To clarify, freedom of movement within does not equal freedom of welfare. New arrivals cannot show up on day one and live off benefits — in fact, abuse of the system in this regard is grounds for sending people home. Yes, the papers may have found people abusing the system — and long may they continue to highlight shame them — but that doesn’t mean these instances are anything like representative.

And besides, if Farage and co. are so keen on non-EU migration, why are they so bloody petrified of Turkey?

Turkey

This one is simple, Turkey cannot join the EU without getting the agreement of all current member states. Half of Cyprus is still occupied by Turkey, do you suppose they’ll be on board? And what about Greece, whose people were forcefully — nay, murderously — expelled from Anatolia by the Turks during and after WWI? The same Greeks spent 400 years being occupied by the Ottoman Empire, which also occupied Bulgaria and Hungary and so on. Perhaps these nations might have something to say about it? That’s before we get on to the legitimate concerns of nations who have no bad blood with Turkey. Furthermore, there’s a raft of requirements new joiners must satisfy before they join the EU, of which Turkey has satisfied one. Turkey joining is such a dim and distant prospect that we can dismiss this whole argument as a red herring.

Trade

If we leave the EU, we’ll be able to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world, the Leave campaign tell us. Yet we’re already negotiating trade deals with the rest of the world as part of the EU. Who do you think is going to get a better deal, an isolated UK facing economic turmoil in a post-Brexit world, or a 27-nation bloc whose members include Germany — the fourth-biggest economy in the world? The answer is perhaps made clearest by the fact that these other countries — non-EU countries — are lining up to tell us Brexit is a bad idea. Yes, most would cut deals eventually. But we’d be bloody lucky to get terms as good as we might otherwise have got.

Economists and entrepreneurs are also lining up to tell us leaving that the EU puts our economy in peril. We’ve just had more than 1,280 business leaders — whose companies employ more than 1.75million people — signing a letter to say that Brexit will put British jobs at risk. What does the Leave campaign say to this? That they don’t care about the experts; that the experts have got it wrong before. I wonder if Michael Gove is so distrusting of expert advice when seeking medical treatment; or if he’d let an amateur represent him in court. This is nothing more than anti-intellectualism.

But, they tell us, we’ll get back £350million a week we currently send to the EU. This can be spent on public services like our NHS. This figure is nonsense and happily ignores the fact that we get a rebate that slashes this contribution to £276million a week. It’s cut down further by EU spending within the UK, such as support for farmers and university grants, bringing the total down to £161million a week. We know how much we spend being a part of the EU — can Leave tell us how much the economic uncertainty that comes with leaving will cost us? No they can’t.

Nor do I believe that money saved on EU membership would be spent on public services. Again, the past record of the Tories at the heart of the Leave campaign gives the game away. This current Conservative government has made real-term cuts to every public service it can, demanding savings even when there are no more savings to be made.

It’s also worth noting that a number of big businesses locate themselves in the UK, particularly in the global financial hub of London, because it provides easy access to the EU single market in favourable conditions. Ireland knows it’ll be a blow to its economy too if we leave, but it’s government does anticipate that a number of these companies will relocate to Dublin should that happen.

Make Britain great again

This whole EU debate has been dragged into the realm of panacea politics. There is no one solution to the troubles facing our country, and only the ignorant or the dishonest can say otherwise. There’s a sense of nostalgia about the idea of leaving; the notion that we can win back some better Britain long lost. To paraphrase Donald Trump, that we can “make Britain great again”.

Will we be greater for it when we’ve snubbed our friends and allies in Europe? When we’re paying the economic price for doing so? What about when we turn around and find the vile SNP agitating for a second independence referendum because of our decision, thereby threatening to leave our Great Britain short a head?

We are different from Europe, on our rain-lashed little rock out in the sea, but there is more that unites us than divides us from our neighbours. These words I borrow from Jo Cox, the MP who was last week gunned down for believing as much. I don’t love the EU as a political body, but I do love Europe, and — more importantly — I love the UK. That’s why I’m voting remain.

Let me take you back. It’s September 2014 and David Cameron faces the very real prospect of being the Prime Minister who oversaw the demise of the United Kingdom.

Scotland is to vote on independence and the polls are horrifyingly close. Cameron the hard-nosed Tory melts away and his soggy leftovers entreat the Scots to stay.

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Scottish Government (www.flickr.com/photos/scottishgovernment)

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Scottish Government (www.flickr.com/photos/scottishgovernment)

Yet if a week is a long time in politics, imagine seven months. Those who agitated for independence lost the vote, but still the Tories have surrendered Scotland to them.

The Conservative campaign now takes it as given that the Scottish National Party will win the Caledonian constituencies, leaving Labour short of a majority on May 7.

What’s more, Cameron and co continue to insist that Labour will make a deal with the SNP, no matter how often or loudly Ed Miliband denies it.

This is partly about winning Tory votes in England – reaffirming unionist values on one hand, while implying Labour links with secessionists on the other.

Just as important though is the effect on Scottish voters. Every anti-Tory is being told you can vote SNP and get Labour just the same – no need to be tactical.

Under normal circumstances, anything that puts your rivals further from power is par for the course, but this loss is not a Conservative gain – the SNP get the spoils.

I won’t be voting for them, but I know Labour are the last levee against the nationalist flood and I would rather they ran the UK, than the Tories ran what’s left of it.

Besides, how woeful is the Conservative offering that they must endanger the union, not even to get a majority, but merely to keep its opponents from one?

Nor would a Tory majority, were it possible, protect our United Kingdom.

Only the blue team will hold a referendum on EU membership and only something like an EU exit would enable Nicola Sturgeon to push for another independence vote.

Plus there’s no doubt that a Conservative government would benefit the SNP – their independence rhetoric is laced with anti-Tory bluster which Labour would neutralise.

It’s doubtless true that the reds will take a beating in Scotland. Miliband may also go back on his word and jump into bed with the SNP, as his rivals say he will.

The political realities are what they are and merit discussion, but the Tory party and its supporters in the press have gone beyond this.

The Sun warns against the SNP in England, but rallies behind them in Scotland. After a debate, Conservative leaders praised Sturgeon for her performance.

This party wants to carve up our country. It deserves our contempt.

Make no mistake, the referendum has not settled the independence question “for a generation.” It has left a cut across the throat of our country – one that may not heal.

One people has started to think of itself as two. SNP membership has quadrupled and, in England, English votes for English laws and even a new Parliament are talked about.

With such a close result, nationalists will want the question asked again and again until they get the answer they want – it’s the neverendum.

Nationalism is the politics of division, left or right. Now is the time for our country to heal; to emphasise what unites us, not what separates us.

The election is done in a day. The United Kingdom must continue.

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Hadrian’s Wall. Photo: Quisnovus (www.flickr.com/photos/quisnovus)

In 1861, the two halves of the American republic went to war. In the increasingly enlightened northern states, political debate was turning against the practice of slavery. The largely agricultural south, meanwhile, had benefited hugely from the practice and was growing impatient with the perceived radicalism of northern politicians.

So, with the line in the sand drawn, the south declared itself a separate Confederate nation and began seizing government property within its boundaries. The crisis erupted into war with the attempted seizure of Fort Sumter in North Carolina. In the ensuing conflict, 600,000 were killed. The United States, however, survived.

Today, America is the world’s leading superpower and largest economy. But across the Atlantic, that same question is being asked: one country or two?

Whilst no threat of military conflict looms, some of the factors that tempted the Confederacy into secession are also tempting Scotland into independence. I talked about the political split in my last post, here, but I want to take a bit of time over the economic argument.

The Yes campaign is arguing (perhaps honestly, perhaps not) that an independent Scotland would be wealthier. When the Confederacy went its own way, it was to maintain the status quo rather than disrupt it, but no doubt part of the consideration was economic.

Now many have gone over the economic ups and downs of Scotland going it alone. I will not repeat that Yes leaders have failed to ensure a currency union, or even a currency. Others can chart the flight of capital southwards and say how empty scaremongering is having some very real effects on markets. Nor will I delve into how risky it is to base all your projections on the best case scenario.

Rather, let’s say (somewhat indulgently) that everything turns out exactly like the independence movement projects. Picture a world in which the Caledonian Xanadu is a reality, with every Scot wealthier than before. Even if the economics of independence works out – is it the right move?

Put it like this, had America fractured into two separate nations, would the combined strength of those countries (be it economically, militarily or politically) be as mighty as it is now? Even if a split had worked out for one side, does anyone really believe that two bickering, smaller Americas would pack the same punch on the world stage?

Why not look at those countries that have split? India fractured first into India and Pakistan, then Pakistan itself fractured into Pakistan and Bangladesh. As with America, there was no shortage of perceived difference or enmity in either of these splits – the first between Hindus and Muslims, the second between Muslims and Muslims.

What followed these divorces however were not harmonious, homogenous groups. Pakistan and India ended up at war with each other repeatedly and border tensions eventually went nuclear. Bangladesh meanwhile, endured two decades of hardship after the break.

Never mind the menu costs of setting up a new state, were the resources here spent posturing at, competing with and defending against each other anything other than squandered?

Alex Salmond says that if Scotland goes independent, England loses a surly lodger and gains a good neighbour. As a line, it’s about as convincing as ‘we can still be friends.’ Borders rarely resolve our differences, but they often accentuate them.

Already, the referendum has sown seeds of difference between two peoples who have been one for more than 300 years. Nationalist rhetoric has told many Scots that they’ve had three centuries of bum deals from the English, while spurned voices south of the border have started lashing out at northern neighbours as being something like ungrateful millstones.

Nor do the differences stop there. Scots have bitterly fought among themselves. Nationalists claim they were attacked outside a football game while Unionist MP Jim Murphy had to cancel his speaking tour after being called a terrorist, a quisling and a defender of paedophiles.

It goes deeper. As with Pakistan, the threat of further disunion lurks. The Shetlands Islands have their fair share of North Sea oil and by all accounts are largely against being part of an independent Scotland. With their strong historical links to Norway , there has been speculation that the islanders will either jump ship or even claim independence themselves.

If personal gain is a good reason to break up a nation, why shouldn’t they? Their share of the oil could probably make for quite a wealthy little state. At the risk of carrying over a theme from my last piece, why stop there?

Even the ceaselessly optimistic Yes campaign admits on its website that Scotland’s economic product per head is less than that of London. Why shouldn’t London throw up some borders too? We could end up with a return to the city-states of Ancient Greece, each unstable, each bullying the smaller settlements around it and each vulnerable to attack from foreign foes.

My point is that – when used as an argument for independence – economics (as with politics) doesn’t support Scotland’s case exclusively.

This spiel has been finished for a couple of days now, but whilst I’ve been mulling it over the referendum has caught up with me. All that remains to say now is that I hope I wake up tomorrow in a country that’s agreed it’s better in one piece.

The time is nearly upon us. In just a few short weeks, our cousins to the north will decide whether to put an end to the marriage between Scotland and England after more than 300 years.

Photo: Julien Carnot (www.flickr.com/photos/julien-carnot/)

Photo: Julien Carnot (www.flickr.com/photos/julien-carnot/)

As with any divorce, it would be messy. Squabbles have already broken out over subjects like joint-custody of our currency, who’s taking how much of the debt and of course there is the oil to consider – the flat screen TV of our divorce analogy.

But some marriages aren’t built to last and just because it’s painful, it doesn’t mean a split is the wrong move. Yes campaigners cite the prospect of political freedom from a country lurching wildly to the right. They cite (as you’d expect) the riches their share of the oil would bring – about 90 per cent of the total if it’s split geographically. They also cite statistics showing how – given that oil wealth – they’d be better off in terms of debt and indeed more economically productive than the rest of the UK.

I’ll try and cover all these points and others in coming articles, but first let’s broach the political argument.

On this point, the frustration can seem easy to understand. Scotland returns 59 parliamentarians to Westminster – just over 10 per cent of the total. With this amount, Scotland’s power only really comes into play in a close contest. If the rest of the UK is agreed on a government, the Caledonian constituencies can only top up or diminish a majority, not topple it. This is pretty much what happened in 2010, when the Conservatives lost all but one seat north of the border, but were still making decisions on behalf of the Scots.

Yet it’s worth remembering that Scotland is home to something like 5.3m people – only about eight per cent of the UK total and three million less than London alone. Scotland’s slice of the political pie is roughly what it deserves. Granted, the electorate there are overwhelmingly (almost uniformly) against the government, but this is not unique to Scotland.

In Wales – another part of the UK with its own national identity – only 10 per cent of the seats are Conservative. The minority is less resoundingly small, perhaps, but it still raises the question; should Wales should go its own way too? The electorate in Cornwall now has minority status on par with that of the Scots, Welsh and Irish. In 2005, it returned only Liberal Democrat MPs. Another nation, maybe? If we’re willing to compromise on the area having a distinct national identity, why not the whole deindustrialised north?

One reason why is because places like Scotland aren’t always as helplessly disenfranchised as the nationalists like to pretend. All parts of the UK are governed to some degree by councils of varying size and scope, each reflecting the political make-up of the area is covers. On top of these, Scotland has its own (nationalist run) parliament with control over – among other things – law and order, education, housing and social services. It also has control over NHS Scotland, which rather rubbishes the claim from the Yes campaigners that this service would be better protected as part of an independent nation.

Generally speaking, matters reserved for the national parliament are of national significance; immigration, foreign policy, the constitution, etc. Some may say that even in these matters, Westminster – being where it is – has no mandate in Scotland. After all, Scotland at its northernmost point (in the scarcely-populated Shetland Isles) is some 650 miles away from Westminster.

Compare this, however, with the situation in America, where the westernmost point on the mainland (excluding Alaska) is in Washington state – 2,435 miles from the nation’s capital in Washington DC. If we’re doing a fair comparison and counting island territory as well, then Guam is nearly 8,000 miles away.

The span of American authority covers places with far less historical connection to Washington than Scotland has to the UK. Puerto Rico was a spoil of war taken from Spain in 1898. On the mainland, Texas was once an independent nation – today it has the second largest economy in the union. Are these candidates for independence too?

Each American state may have its own provincial government, but – as with Scotland – decisions of national significance are taken at the national level, however far away. While I am beholden to an online distance calculator of questionable veracity for this data, the point stands that you could be a lot further away from your government than even the most remote citizens of Scotland are.

What I’m trying to say is – in political terms – Scotland’s need for independence is no greater than that of many other places. But, even if this is accepted (by a great many, it is not) there will still be those who feel Scotland would be better off on its own.

For these people, my final political argument would be where does the fracturing stop? The comparison with Cornwall made earlier wasn’t made to belittle Scotland’s claim to independence, but to establish that – on the basis of the political arguments in support of it – we could argue for the creation of innumerable statelets of ever-diminishing size. And why not? Is size the deciding factor? If so, where do we (arbitrarily) draw the line?

History shows that new borders tend to accentuate divisions rather than soften them and I mean to demonstrate it in my next piece on this subject. For now though, I’ll conclude by saying that a democratically elected government is never going to please everyone, but by this time next year, we may well be have one which will leave the Tory heartland dissatisfied.