If you're one of those folk who have been critical of the anti-democratic drift of the EU over the last 20 years or so, you’ll have been surprised /delighted /relieved (delete as appropriate) to find that some of the most quoted members of the chatterati are beginning to suggest that continued membership might not necessarily be in Britain’s best interests. Up until fairly recently, voicing that opinion in polite company (or, in the case of social media, impolite company) would have you labelled as a ‘xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englander’. So embedded is this tiresome cliché in the dusty attic of the bien pensant worldview that Alex Salmond recently felt emboldened enough to state that a possible ‘Brexit’ vote in the 2017 Euro referendum was one of the reasons that made another plebiscite on Scottish independence ‘inevitable’. In playing to his gallery, the former first minister would have been more honest to state that another referendum was inevitable ‘because of reasons’, because that is all that his followers require. He could have named a plague of frogs as a ‘reason’, or Jeremy Paxman’s beard or perhaps Zane Malik leaving One Direction; he doesn’t need an actual reason, because we all know what his party is after and what they’ll be doing over the next few years to further their aims.
In assuming, however, that his voters believe the EU to be an unequivocal force for good, he may just have miscalculated. True, there are still plenty of folk prepared to trot out the line that has been gospel since sometime in the mid-eighties. A few weeks ago, I was speaking with an acquaintance on the topic of the Euro referendum; this individual was very pro-EU and couldn’t understand why anyone could get worked up about what she described as "essentially just a trading block". This struck me as something more than just ignorance, more than just a stock phrase trotted out by someone who hasn’t been paying much attention to the news; it belonged somewhere in the realms of cognitive dissonance.
Yes, the EU was initially sold to the British electorate as a trading block (some readers may be old enough to remember when it was actually called the Common Market), but it has clearly metamorphosed into something that is bigger, more powerful and -as more and more folk are realising- quite unwilling to be swayed from its agenda by anything as tiresomely inconvenient as ‘democracy’.
And this is the point that can’t be made often enough to those who would trot out that party line about xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englanders: The EU is not Europe. The EU is a concerted attempt to run Europe from a central source. You can be in favour of increased co-operation, trade, labour movement and so on without being in favour of central planning and big, unaccountable government.
There will be plenty of opportunities over the next couple of years to discuss the merits (because there are some) and demerits (because there are some) of our EU membership but, with the interventions of people like George Monbiot, Caitlin Moran and Owen Jones, there are signs that the intellectual sands are shifting.
In a recent column in The Guardian, Jones said:
"Let’s just be honest about our fears. We fear that we will inadvertently line up with the xenophobes and the immigrant-bashing nationalists, and a ‘no’ result will be seen as their vindication, unleashing a carnival of Ukippery. Hostility to the EU is seen as the preserve of the hard right, and not the sort of thing progressives should entertain. And that is why – if indeed much of the left decides on Lexit – it must run its own separate campaign and try and win ownership of the issue.”
This is going to be difficult for some folk on the left to handle. So distasteful is the notion that they might be sharing some common ground with those xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englanders, that the 'progressive' possibility of leaving the EU has had to be given its own cute little name: Lexit. Did you see what they did there?
To get back to the point: how should you react to these developments if you’ve been one of the folk who have been critical of the anti-democratic drift of the EU over the last 20 years or so?
The so-called intelligentsia is always a few years behind the beat, so should you sit back and feel a bit smug about the fact that they are just beginning to understand something that you’ve known for a very long time? Should you rejoice in the possibility that there might now be a chance of a reasoned debate on the topic of EU membership without some nitwit comedian, singer or actor labelling you as a xenophobic, immigrant-bashing little Englander?
Or should you take the optimistic view that, if the likes of George Monbiot, Caitlin Moran and Owen Jones realise that they have been wrong about the EU that they might just consider the possibility that they could also be wrong about some other big issues?
I’ll stop right there.
I don’t want this blog to get too ridiculous.