The Spanish state lost tonight. The scenes of Spanish policemen fighting with civilians in Catalonia when they tried to vote in the referendum were unsettling to see. I have no strong views on the case for independence of Catalonia, I have no dog in this fight. However, it is always right that people have the right to express their views. Even if the Spanish state is intent on ignoring the results and calling the ballot unlawful they still have no right to stop people expressing their views.
It is ironic that, all the polling evidence, suggested that the majority of the Catalan public did not wish independence and that the Spanish state would have probably won a referendum had they supported and participated in it. Now, the satisfaction with the Spanish state is likely to be very seriously damaged and the drive for Independence is likely to be significantly strengthened ; you do not make yourself popular by attacking your own citizens with truncheons and rubber bullets.
Another group whose popularity should suffer a decline is the other heads of the EU countries. They have been noticeable by their silence. A handful of nationalist and separatist politicians from other EU countries have spoken in favour of Catalan’s independence, but the heads of the EU have been silent while one of its member states has seen civil strife with its army fighting with its populace. When a core democratic right has been threatened it seems the EU is willing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear if it is for the sake of further European ‘Unity‘.
This has been a shameful day for Spain and Europe but it may be one of the first steps to start to break up these over-large, undemocratic institutions in which we live.
The was a collective sigh of relief when Macron won the French election yesterday. There was a general feeling that a bullet had been dodged and normality has been restored. There have been some congratulatory reports that the French have turned the populist tide that had caused so much consternation with the Brexit referendum in the UK and Trump’s victory in the USA. But is this the case ?
It is clear that Macron won comfortably by nearly 2:1. However, this misses a number of other factors. Firstly the turnout was poor compared to previous French elections and there was the lowest turnout since 1969 and this as amplified by 9% of voters voting “Blank” finding themselves unable to support either party. Secondly, as was the case previously with Chirac, many voted for Macron, holding their noses, as they wished to defeat Le Pen rather then support Macron, and, thirdly, nearly 11 million French voted for the Front National. If one looks at the distribution of this vote it shows a clear divide in France between the more prosperous metropolitan areas supporting Macron and Le Pen’s support in the rural areas and ‘rust belts’. In addition to these problems there are the additional details that Macron has to form a government without the backing of an established political party which is unknown ground.
Then there is the problem of Macron himself. He presented himself as the outsider, the agent for change, the new broom. However, his background and policies are clearly those of the EU ‘business as usual” form. He had difficulties introducing these when he was the minister of the economy in Hollande’s government. He has plans to reduce corporation tax, reduce the number working in the public sector, promote greater EU integration and reduce the deficit. His policies will please companies and corporations and be regarded well, but are unlikely to be well received by those at the bottom. They will do nothing to improve the lot of those who currently feel disadvantaged and left behind. If the French economy does not continue to grow, and grow substantially, then those 11 million who voted for Le Pen will not have found a saviour in Macron and might find their numbers grow.
It is clear that the bureaucrats in the EU and the large companies and corporations who benefit from the EU (through rent seeking and stifling competition) feel they have dodged a bullet. However, it may be that they dodged this bullet by pushing a public sector worker in front of it, and it is in no way certain that the gun won’t be reloaded.
A lot of territorial changes are anticipated in the wake of a letter from Theresa May to Donald Tusk. By triggering Article 50 it clear that the political map of Europe will need to be redrawn. There is a great deal of uncertainty of how Britain’s leaving of the European Union will be managed, what form trade arrangements will take, what new international arrangements will be made, how will new opportunities be handled. Although slightly apprehensive, I am optimistic that this is a step in the correct direction and one which will allow us to become more democratic, more responsible and able to have relationships with a wider range of people and places.
It is also likely that this change may lead to changes in the make up if the ‘United’ Kingdom itself. The S.N.P. see Brexit as an opportunity to push for a second independence referendum and, were they successful, Plaid Cymru may follow suit. Although this is rather opportunistic of the S.N.P., I have no concerns over this. Smaller is better in terms of democracies and, in the absence of a federal or canton system in the U.K. , four smaller nations would be less undemocratic than one large unit. These smaller states would be more flexible and responsive than their larger progenitor. This could possibly, though not necessarily, lead to better economic and social systems.
My only concerns are that the S.N.P., with its large state policies and plans to seek continued membership of the European Union, is not promoting policies which bode well for an independent Scotland’s future. On the one hand their policies suggest a future reminiscent of the nightmare of Venezuela (Inefficient oil-backed socialism) while Europe’s policies sugest and equally unsavoury prospect of a Greek future (of externally imposed austerity and reduced public spending).
If we are going to try to use nation states to break up bigger units and bring power closer to people we have to be careful that we manage to do this. Break up the United Kingdom by all means but break up the European Union also. Don’t bring powers back from London simply to send them further away to Brussels. If we are going to ‘Cry Freedom’ lets go for full freedom and independence. Fully free we can work out our economic and social plans for ourselves.
I was enfranchised and able to vote for the first time in 1975. It was a time of turmoil and unrest. Unemployment was high as was inflation (at one point inflations reached 24%). Young people felt that their futures were bleak and many felt society was becoming increasingly unequal. The European Economic Community was held by many to be one of the major causes of the many problems of the time; it was seen as a club designed to benefit business and the wealthy at the expense of the poor. As a young man I allied myself with the progressive forces and campaigned for a “NO” vote in the EEC referendum on the 5th of June 1975.
We had a major battle ahead of us. The big money was against us and all the media, except the Morning Star, had sided with the YES campaign . But we fought on. Our experts warned of increased food prices as a consequence of the Common Agricultural Policy, syndicalist groups warned of the effects for labour and statesmen of every hue warned about the loss of political power which would follow a shift of power from London to Brussels . The nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Ireland joined the fray and warned against loss of sovereignty .
Our experts were correct, but we lost. We lost heavily it was a “landslide” for YES . The young, the better educated and the left had been outvoted by the rest. We saw what had happened and knew what to do. We needed to continue to work to see if it was possible to change the European project from the crony capitalist support network it was becoming, to see if our criticisms were correct and our fears did indeed manifest, and to build a political consensus. In the next 41 years we discovered that the EU could not be changed from within, our fears were in fact correct and we had been able to build a political movement.
4o or so years later, we young voters, now more experienced, older and wiser, got a second chance and we took it. The youth had grown into the man and the man was able to look to the youth’s future.
I do not feel that I have been so engaged in the politics of the country as I have over the last few months. During the referendum campaign I found myself torn between two options both of which carried risks and potential benefits. I started the process as someone who would be likely to vote to “remain” because of my economic cautiousness and someone who felt themselves to be an internationalist. I ended the campaign putting an “X” in the box against “leave”.
During the campaign it was clear that the push to remain was based on arguments of prosperity, that we would all have more money and more security of wealth, if we remained in the EU. Strong though these arguments were they did not settle my growing unease as I read of the anti-democratic nature of the EU and the clear evidence that the EU works to foster ‘crony capitalism’ rather then free trade and internationalism. There was good evidence that the EU is one of the drivers for the increasing unfairness of capitalism when success arises from rent-seeking by corporations in close cooperation with government agencies.
For me, immigration was never a major factor in my decision on how to vote. I support free movement of people and think that, in economic terms, immigration is usually a net benefit to an economy. However, we have to be careful that free movement is not an excuse for companies to undercut wages of local workforces by importing cheaper labour, nor an excuse to allow companies to force labour to move across the continent, often breaking up families, in the search for a decent wage. The differences in various nations’ welfare state provisions mean that taxpayers, via the government, can end up paying to allow the luxury of companies to drive down their labour costs – the companies do not pay the costs of the “social wage” that is often a large part of the differential that makes the migration attractive for workers.
I did find the paradoxical accusations of “racism” annoying. All my life I have fought against racism wherever I have encountered it. To find the term bandied about, simply as a term of abuse, to scare people in a campaign was distasteful and probably put the first cracks in my decision to vote “remain”. The EU has done dreadful damage to farmers in non-european countries and caused many problems for potential migrants from non-european countries. It would be easier, and more accurate, to level the charge of racism against the EU with its “free movement” so long as you are Caucasian and were born in Europe.
But my worries about the financial aspects remained even when I was clear that for fairness, free trade and democracy I’s have to vote for “leave”. Though I did start to recognise I was being offered a gilded cage – stay here, it is rich and safe, don’t worry about those abstract things they matter less than material security. But I also knew that gilt fades and gilded cages usually end up as plain prisons as time goes on. In the early days Greece would have found the EU money a wonderful incentive to participate and who would not want to be in this pretty organisation with its largesse. Most Greeks now find their cage pretty oppressive, as do increasing numbers of others (for example the large numbers of unemployed youth in southern Europe).
It felt increasing like going through a divorce. There were all the fears, stoked up by an annoyed spouse – that “how will I cope” fear, that “perhaps he’ll change” glimmer of hope, that “things are not all that bad after all” grasping at straws. This has been even more apparent in the first week apart with the erratic behaviour of the EU staff at times threatening retribution and revenge then trying a more conciliatory approach. When couples find themselves at this point in a relationship they nearly always part and almost never remarry. The gilded cage often keeps one partner there for longer then they should but eventually they recognise that some things are more important than money.
Tony Benn once said “Better a bad democracy than a good King” and he was right. To have democratic power over those who rule us is more important than short-term wealth. To have the ability to contest the rules which are made is also the best way to secure long-term prosperity. We will fare better out of the EU and may also help other countries to recognise that they can also.
The first week after the vote has strengthened my resolve and reassured me that my decision was correct. To read the response of the “remain” group has confirmed how anti-democratic they were with their calls to ignore or re-run the referendum, with their hostility to the elderly, with their distaste for the poor of the country, and with their arrogant self-assuredness that they were correct when the majority was in error.
Whatever happens we have taken the correct first step.