Monday, October 12, 2015

I will be voting to stay in the EU and here are some reasons why...

On a message board I was part of a discussion about the upcoming EU referendum that spilled out of a person explaining why he voted UKIP. His reason was that "I think national sovereignty is the defining issue of our generation."

I asked him why. I had to ask him several times before he came out with "I don't like them telling us what to do." Or in other words, I don't like being told what to do by foreigners. Apparently it's OK to be told what to do by people who were born or who live in this country and definitely don't have your best interests at heart unless you're a millionaire or a member of the Eton old boys network, because at least they aren't foreign!

Putting aside the basic racism of that point of view for one moment, does it really make sense? The UK is one of the powerhouse economies of Europe. It's got a lot of people and it should have a lot of say and a lot of sway in Europe as a result. I can see tiny countries like Belgium and Denmark deciding they don't want to be pushed around any more, but the UK is big enough to be among the big hitters. The fact that we don't feel we are is more to do with the ineptitude of our leaders than anything else.

Let's be honest if we put Merkel up against Cameron, only a true-blue rosetted moron would seriously bet against Merkel. I'd question whether Cameron could hold his own against any premier from one of the big European countries, and most of the smaller ones. He's a political lightweight and that's why the UK has floundered in Europe in the five or so years he's been in charge.

In fact, the only reason a referendum is in the offing is because Cameron lacked faith in himself. It was a sop to the euro-sceptic Tories to stop them defecting to UKIP and everyone thought the parliament was heading towards coalition government again. No way Cameron would ally with UKIP if they returned any MPs (which in the end they effectively didn't, because their one MP was a Tory who switched sides in a bacon-saving move), and any other party wouldn't want a referendum, so Cameron knew it was a promise he would never have to follow up on. Unless the unthinkable happened and he won an outright majority. Oops.

Well, sometimes if you don't back your own horse in the race you end up looking like a chump.

Cameron doesn't want a 'Brexit'. (Yes, the British Exit has it's own bastardised nickname now.) Of course he doesn't. It would be a disaster for the main financiers of the Conservative party and the home counties core voting districts. Economically, the uncertainty would damage the stock market, trading agreements would be torn up and we would no longer be a key player in a very good team. We would be one against many and we would be owned by China within a generation - their trading post on the edge of Europe, a bit like we used to use Hong Kong.

But the economic meltdown that would ensue following a Brexit and the destruction of the stock market aren't really my reasons for staying in the EU. I'm not a fan of the money-making-money empire of Mammon so I won't mourn its passing, even if it's a hard time to live through.

My reasons are simpler. Here's one: we haven't had a major war in Western Europe for over seventy years now. I think the EU has played some part in that. When you are sitting down working out ways to work more closely together, there is less likelihood of people gunning up and prepping for war.

Seventy years war-free on our continent is pretty much unheard of and we have all reaped the benefit. We are the richest generation ever with luxuries and technology which our forefathers could only dream of. Yes, that has made us hated in the parts of the world we could describe as the 'have nots', which brings it's own ethical considerations into play, but most people in the UK have a standard of living that would be unheard of in previous generations. When you aren't spending money on bombs and then using those bombs to blow things up, you can achieve a great deal as a group of countries.

I think that's a good reason to stay in the EU.

Then there is the way money is spent. I know it makes no sense for the UK to contribute to European funds and then claim the money back to spend in poor areas, just like it makes no sense to take tax off poor working people and then pay them benefits to limit the impact of poverty. But that process of Euro funding has really helped in parts of the UK that I call 'not-London'.

Just about every major infrastructure project in South Wales - from fast, safe roads to the lovely Cardiff Bay developments to the new Swansea Marina - has been funded by European money. Yes, it's our money they are giving back to us, but that's the point, it's coming back to us. London governments are very good at spending money in London and even when they don't, it's money spent in the provinces to benefit London (HS2 anyone?).

The EU has made the redistribution of wealth easier and better. Do we think a London government would have bothered revitalising Cardiff Bay? No, of course not. They were happy to hoover up the cash when the valleys were exporting coal by the shipload, but it was Euro money and Euro laws that cleaned up the toxic effects of mining and helped turn Cardiff into the snazzy happening place it is today. And the same is true of many regional cities in England.

And then there's the third thing, the real big reason. Being part of the EU protects us from extremist governments back home. This is the plus side of 'them' telling 'us' what to do. It prevents 'us' from doing something stupid by voting for an evil government.

I've been reading my Grandad's memoir recently and he wrote about how he was caned at school for speaking Welsh. This was less than a century ago, when the British government was still pursuing an educational policy that aimed to eradicate the Welsh language. It worked in my family. My Grandad stopped speaking Welsh and that was lost.

No EU government could do that now. It would be considered a breach of a child's human rights to beat them for not speaking the 'correct' language. I don't really think a UK government would want to pursue a policy of suppression, but let's say they did. Inside the EU, they can't. Outside the EU they can.

We have to careful with politicians. We know they say one thing to get elected then do another when they are. Cameron and his cronies never mentioned austerity in the run up to 2010. One of Cameron's big promises was 'No top down reorganisations of the NHS'. That was nixed just a year after entering coalition government.

So politicians lie. They tell half-truths or no-truths and they get elected and then they can do what they want. Unless there are checks. Unless there are balances. The EU is one of the best checks and balances we have and I don't want to lose that. I don't want to be at the mercy of a Westminster government as the highest authority in the land, just in case...

So there's three reasons:

  1. it's a check on wanton destruction through war, 
  2. it redistributes some of the wealth to where it is really needed, 
  3. and it puts limits on our national government, which is a good thing if you really think about it.

On the other side there is a nebulous 'I don't like foreigners telling me what to say' proto-racism that calls itself a desire for 'national sovereignty'. But patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. I would like the UK to be bigger, better, more inclusive and safer - I think that's a patriotic statement - and I think that would happen inside the EU rather than outside it.

Incidentally, if you disagree with me you can say so. If you hate the EU, you can say so. You have complete freedom of speech. Do you know why? Well, it's not a British law that gives you freedom of speech. It's because you are in the EU.

And so to a last question. The guy on the message board kept complaining that no one gave reasons to stay in the EU, except I did and he didn't acknowledge them or reply to them. He also didn't answer my other questions, which included this: What law, if any, passed by the EU has directly harmed or damaged you?

I have yet to hear anyone from the 'Brexit' campaign actually answer that.

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