conflating the EU with Europe. I’m never sure whether it is done through sheer ignorance or whether it represents an attempt to make some political point about those supporting the Leave campaign. Whatever the case, it is always worth reminding people that the EU is not Europe; the EU is a political project designed to run Europe from a centralised source. Being ‘anti-EU’ is not the same as being ‘anti-Europe’.
As Tony Benn once put it:
"How can one be anti-European when one
is born in Europe? It is like saying that one is anti-British if one does not
agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer."
The main issues in this referendum have been the economy, immigration and the
democratic deficit (or, as some would have it, sovereignty).
Anyone who tells you that they know what will happen to the economy if we
stay or if we leave is either lying or hasn’t yet worked out that his or her
guesswork doesn’t amount to much more than a hill of beans. Perhaps you can remember
all of the clever folk who predicted the dotcom bubble crash, the sub-prime mortgage
fiasco in the US or the Eurozone crisis? No, me neither.
Immigration -whether we like it or not- is a huge issue, particularly in the
poorest areas where folk have to compete with immigrants for jobs and housing.
The consistent failure of the political class to address legitimate concerns
within these communities turned this into a bigger issue than it ever had to
be. There was a perfect little illustration of this failure last year, when the
Labour MP Emily Thornberry posted her notorious ‘flag of St. George’ tweet. Ms
Thornberry not only outed herself as an elitist snob with no understanding of -or
sympathy for- the suckers she expected to vote for her; she articulated an
entitled, insulated disdain that many folk now believe is endemic among our political
But for all of the concerns about the economy and immigration, it is democracy
that exercises my mind when considering how to cast my vote.
In 1973, the European Economic Community (known
colloquially as the Common Market) was sold to the electorate on the basis that
we were joining a trading block. When it was rebranded as the European Union in
1993, some critics pointed out (and were duly shouted down) that the direction
of travel had been reset, away from a mere ‘Common Market’ and towards a
federal European state. It is perfectly legitimate to believe in the
establishment of a United States of Europe, but if you believe in it, you must
be prepared to argue your case and you must get the permission of the
electorate before you seek to impose it. Nobody, alas, has ever done this. We should
judge institutions not by what they say; we should pay attention instead to
what they do. The EU has consistently
demonstrated that it acquires its powers by stealth, through treaties that
nobody understands. In that sense, it is not just undemocratic; it is anti-democratic.
Accordingly, for all that there are good things and bad things about EU membership,
I’ll be voting ‘out’ because my belief in the democratic process trumps
everything else. As Tony Benn (yes, him again) put it, faced with the choice
between a good king and a bad parliament, our belief in democracy should compel
us to choose the bad parliament.
Although my mind is made up, there are four observations
I’d make in advance of the vote:
1. The Remain campaign should win. Apart from the having the weight of the
establishment behind it, evidence indicates that the status quo normally
prevails in a referendum. That’s because people are more conservative than is
generally acknowledged and ‘Remain’ is clearly the ‘risk-averse’ choice.
2. In the unlikely event of a ‘Leave’ vote, Cameron (or whoever else is in
charge) will merely take it as a cue to ‘negotiate’ what they’ll call a ‘better
deal’ for the UK. Their hope would be that the uneducated electorate will get
the right answer next time.
3. If the Leave vote prevails, the EU itself will find a way to work around it.
Why do I say that? Because all of the
available evidence tells us that that is how it operates. The drivers of the EU project are in too deep to give up
now; there are too many vested interests with too much at stake to allow voters
to mess things up. Impervious to anything as vulgar as public opinion, the EU
leaders have gradually immunised themselves against the virus of democratic
accountability. The best indicator of future behaviour is past
behaviour; just ask residents of Denmark, Holland, France and Greece, all of
whom gave the wrong answers in referenda and were ‘asked’ to reconsider.
4. My gut feeling is that none of this matters anyway. That is not because I
doubt the importance of expressing our views through the ballot box. Rather, it
is because, in the end, reality will intrude; it always does. I believe that
the EU -as we know it- will collapse within the lifetime of most folk reading
this article. All previous attempts at 'unifying'
Europe have failed and this one will as well. History tells us that when people
can’t change things via the ballot box, they find other ways to express their
political will. When the mere casting of votes means so very little to the
drivers of the EU project, the likelihood increases that they will eventually be
deflected from their purpose by forces that might be somewhat less civilised than
those we’d encounter in the average election.
Good luck, whichever way you decide to vote on Thursday.
If you are still undecided, I’d urge you to read this:
Tony Benn's speech to the House of Commons on 20th November 1991.