Why I’ll be voting to remain in the European Union

flag_yellow_lowThere’s still over sixteen weeks to go until June 23rd, but when the referendum finally rolls around I will be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. This hasn’t been a hard decision for me, and I’ve been making many of the same arguments for Britain to stay a member of the EU since the 1990s. This post, though, is about explaining my reasoning as to why Britain is better off as a member of the EU, not an attempt at soaring polemic.

My starting point is that Britain is a European country. Geographically, culturally, historically, and economically, we are a part of Europe. Europe is not a homogeneous mass, but a place where multiple stories combine into a bigger whole. Being British and European isn’t a zero-sum game where one must reduce as the other increases, just as one can simultaneously be English and British, or a Brummie and English. We all juggle multiple political and cultural identities all the time, be they local, regional, national, or continental and to be one doesn’t diminish all the others. To say that we are a European country is not to forget that Britain exists, it’s a part of what makes Britain what it is.

What’s also key to my decision is the world we live in now. We’re no longer in a world where nation-states are the be-all and end-all of political, economic and social power. Nation-states may just about cling to their monopoly of force, but they are no longer monopolies of power for their people. Corporations have become vast behemoths far outside the control of individual states, the internet makes a mockery of national borders as a cultural boundary and forces from terrorism to climate change are truly global problems, not local ones.

For me, the idea that leaving the EU would somehow reclaim our ‘sovereignty’ as a nation is an argument that rests on facts that there were never really true. Just about every nation and state in human history has relied on some form of co-operation and mutual agreement with other states in order to function and provide a decent quality of life to its inhabitants. That’s even more the case now, in our world where power exists as much outside states as within it, as the Economist points out:

To live with globalisation is to acknowledge that many laws (both those devised by governments and those which bubble up at no one’s behest) are international beasts whether we like it or not. If sovereignty is the absence of mutual interference, the most sovereign country in the world is North Korea.

The question this referendum asks us gives us the choice of how we want the UK to interact with the rest of the world. Unless we want to follow the route of North Korea into autarky and refusing to interact with the rest of the world except on the most basic levels, we have to deal with the treaties, agreements and institutions that make up the formal world of international politics as well as the networks of power, influence and money that make up the informal part of it. One country on its own has very little chance of wielding influence on the global stage, unlike 28 countries working together in one of the planet’s largest blocs of political and economic power.

The UK is going to have to work together with other nations to achieve anything on the international stage, and the EU gives us the ability to work together with 27 other nations that we already have strong links with, on top of the economic benefits that have come from the last seven decades of bringing Europe closer together. Since 1945, we’ve seen the massive benefits to everyone that comes from the nations of Europe working together, and those benefits have included one of the longest periods without a pan-European war in history. That’s not solely because of the EU, but it’s one of the pillars on which that peace was built, binding together the economies of Europe to provide the mutual interest that drove the NATO alliance.

The European Union is a long way from perfect, and needs a whole host of reforms to make it work better and for the benefit of the citizens, not the governments. But I think the same things about the government of the UK as well, which needs just as many reforms as the EU, if not more, and yet I’d much rather see that reformed than leave it. However, if we want to reform the EU to make it better, we need to be a willing participant in it, not sitting on the edge of the room deciding whether to leave or not, or even outside it all together, shouting instructions to a meeting we’ve just stormed out of.

I want the UK to be influential in the world, and I want us to use that influence to tackle the unaccountable power that affects all of us. Because I think our influence is maximised by being part of something bigger and because I think the European ideal can still be wielded to bring power to all the people of Europe, I want the UK to remain part of the European Union and that’s why I’ll be voting to remain on June 23rd.

2015 General Election Day 6: #nicolasturgeonsfault

Except for viewers in Scotland
Except for viewers in Scotland
This was meant to be a relatively quiet period in the campaign, wasn’t it? Thanks to Nicola Sturgeon doing moderately well in the leaders’ debate on Thursday, it seems the right-wing press have gone back to their 2010 election manuals and begun monstering her the same way they did with Nick Clegg. This time around, it seems that the whole thing hasn’t yet launched #nicolasturgeonsfault into the forefront of Twitter’s global trending topics, but the advances in social media have meant that a whole story was rebutted and the reporters were on the back foot trying to defend it before the paper itself had even published.

Of course, there weren’t legions of cybernats in 2010 either, so there wasn’t anyone there to attribute the whole thing to an MI5 plot and as proof of the establishment’s desire to crush the dreams of an independent Scotland. In that spirit, I would therefore point out that the obvious beneficiaries of this are the purely Scottish newspapers, as it will likely drive down sales of the Telegraph north of the border. Yes, instigating a potentially international crisis in order to drive newspaper sales is the stuff of a more ridiculous Bond movie, but I’m pretty sure I could get at least one of the papers to believe that the SNP want rid of Trident to give them a base in which to store Alex Salmond’s stealth boat. Then again, we’ve yet to hear the sages of English High Toryism weigh in on this yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Simon Heffer blaming it on a Scottish-French plot, meaning England must be prepared to defend itself from a revival of the Auld Alliance.

More seriously, a lot of people are wondering who benefits from this story, and the more general attacks on Sturgeon and the SNP, but I think it shouldn’t be looked at on its own. The Tories are trying to spread a message – it’s in a lot of their leaflets, and David Cameron uses it the phrase almost as often as ‘long term economic plan’ – that the only alternative to single party rule is a ‘coalition of chaos’. Anything that gets people confused about just what one of the other parties wants or might do is, in this view, good for the Tories. It’s also why they won’t talk about any of their own potential coalition partners, because they want to distance themselves as far as possible from any coalition talk. We can expect a lot more of this over the next few weeks, and we haven’t even got to the rerun of 2010’s ‘a hung Parliament would be a disaster’ theme yet. There’ll likely be another concerted attack on the Greens at some point soon, followed by a ton of hyperbole about the vast ideological chasms that divide Liberal Democrats and how Vince Cable and Tim Farron will undermine any future coalition with the Tories. By the last week of the campaign, we’ll likely be back to the ‘vote Tory, or the country gets it‘ messaging they were using last time.

One other thought that comes from this is that we were to get a Tory majority, we’d be treated to the spectacle of David Cameron attempting to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU against a background of an increasingly unhinged and Europhobic right-wing press. Cameron himself has shown he has no problems with insulting those he would hope to negotiate with, but given that the press is now being used to leak details of private meetings with ambassadors, what could we expect to see while he’s trying to negotiate with other countries? Trying to do something as complex as renegotiating EU membership is going to be a complex process, and doing it against a cacophonous soundtrack of Johnny Foreigner bashing orchestrated by press barons who would be quite happy to see a British EU exit would add even more complexity to it. To be honest, it feels like a surefire recipe for absolute chaos and something certain to derail any long term economic plan in a short-term mess of bickering and xenophobia.

So, having thought I’d be short of material for the weekend, I can boot writing about the Why Vote books to tomorrow, but rest assured that the one I’ve already finished has given me plenty of material. If you want to read about ill-though-out policy proposals in the meantime, may I direct you to the post I wrote this morning?

And finally, two of the more amusing bits of election news of the day. First, George Galloway managed to get into a spat on Twitter with a brewery after he took offense to a fairly innocuous message from them. Unfortunately, Courage is already trademarked by another brewery, but I would hope that we can all soon get to sample their Strength and Indefatigability ales alongside it.

Alongside that, we learn of another UKIP candidate standing down close to the election. For once, this isn’t because he’s done or said anything wrong, but because he’s got a new job. Congratulations to him, and let’s all wish him well and hope there’s no version of UKIP in the country he’s going to work in who’ll accuse him of taking a job from a citizen of that country.

Worth Reading 165: Taxing gamblers

Scotland’s colour revolution? – “It’s belatedly struck me that many features of the Yes campaign, and its post-referendum continuation in the SNP surge, come sharply into focus if you see what’s going on as a colour revolution against Labour Scotland.” Ken MacLeod offers an interesting take on Scottish politics.
The Tories want to give away houses to make sure we have enough houses – Jonn ‘build more bloody houses’ Elledge on the idiocy of the Tory plans to extend Right To Buy to housing associations.
Revealed: how British voters’ political mood swings – John Bartle of the University of Essex’s latest research on how the ‘policy mood’ of the voting public swings in an opposite direction to the Government.
The Unbearable Angst of being Britain – We need to decide what we want Britain to be in the world before we get obsessed with the minutiae of defence spending, says Tim Oliver, otherwise we’re having a meaningless debate.
Why did Brussels become the capital of Europe? Because Belgium starts with letter B! – Brussels’ role as the capital of Europe came about as an accident, inheriting the role when no one could agree on an alternative.