Après le Brexit, la déluge

Brexit / EU Scrabble
Brexit / EU Scrabble.
The EU has made many errors in the past decade. In particular, the way the European Council (consisting of the national heads of state) are in charge of most things at the moment is at best counterproductive. I’d like to see a lot of the power shifting to the Commission and the European Parliament, and I’d like to see a clearer division of powers (so that for instance it’s clear what the Greek government are in charge of, rather than heaping pressure on them repeatedly to pursue those policies that other countries think would be best, rather than their own manifesto).

However, we shouldn’t forget that the EU has been an astounding success in spite of its failings. No wars on its territory, the right to travel freely and to apply for a job wherever you want, and many, many more things. If the EU didn’t exist, we should create it.

There is therefore not any doubt in my mind that I want the EU to exist. I just want it to be better — more democratic, better at providing prosperity for normal people, and more open to radical ideas like Scottish and Catalan independence within the EU.

How do we obtain such a better EU? Do we make the current one collapse and hope that a new and better one instantly rises from the ashes, or do we stay on the inside and try to reform it together with like-minded people from all the member states? The answer is, of course, the latter. If the EU falls apart, the individual countries will instantly reinforce border controls, enact trade wars and in general do many things that will make it hard and laborious to recreate a European union.

And of course the bloody Tories have chosen the worst possible time to hold an In/Out referendum! Before 2008 or so, the EU was quite stable and would have been able to deal with the consequences quite easily. At the moment it appears very fragile, however: (1) The Greek drama of 2015 seriously endangered the monetary union and has made people question whether the EU has any answers to the financial crisis; (2) the current refugee crisis is close to breaking Schengen (the open borders part of the EU); and (3) the authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland are undermining the EU’s status as a club of liberal democracies (because the rules for suspending a country’s voting rights assume that there’ll only ever be one “bad” country at any one time).

History is a great example of chaos theory. There are stable periods when practically nothing important happens — of course small events take place, but they don’t rock the boat — and there are chaotic periods when one small event can have massive consequences.

It feels very strongly like we’re living through a chaotic time like the 1930s (which is of course why Scottish independence nearly happened — I doubt the indyref would have been half as successful if it had taken place ten years earlier). Of course the EU might survive Brexit, but there is a real danger it’ll be the straw that broke the camel’s back. If the UK votes to leave, the best hope for the EU is probably that it’ll be a complete disaster so that no other member state gets tempted to leave, but that won’t be any fun for ordinary people here (although that might definitely lead to Scottish independence in short order).

If Brexit is just moderately successful seen from the outside (i.e., it could be a complete disaster for most of the UK so long as London is booming so much that the country-wide statistics look OK), it could easily encourage anti-EU parties in other countries. Le Pen could win the French presidential election next year and start to implement a Frexit. And Denmark has already been quite focused on following London, so a Dexit could follow soon afterwards, too. And suddenly the whole house of cards might come tumbling down.

People who are against an organisation such as the EU existing at all should of course vote to Leave. I get really annoyed, however, when I see people advocating a Leave vote in order to achieve a better EU. It’s simply not going to happen. We need to protect the EU while working hard to reform it from the inside, and to do that, we need to vote to Stay.

Trying to understand the Tories

Into the Abyss
Into the Abyss.
Westminster politics often makes me feel foreign — the fact that it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did when I arrived in Scotland 14 years ago just shows how completely divorced Scotland and England already are politically.

The Tories’ referendum on leaving the EU is a prime example. In Scotland you simply don’t encounter that deep antipathy towards the EU that clearly must be a common theme amongst natural conservatives in England, and as a result what’s happening just now simply doesn’t feel relevant to me. Unfortunately, Scotland voted No to independence, and as a result, this referendum is happening here too, and the outcome does matter to people in Scotland (not least to EU citizens like me).

I therefore have to get my head round this. The first question I’ve been asking myself is why Cameron decided to boldly split his own party like no man has split it before, and in particular, how he ended leading the Stay campaign.

Before the summer holiday, I had convinced myself that he was looking for an excuse to head the Leave campaign:

My guess is he’s already expecting his negotiations will fail (if for no other reason because he’s asking for things that any EU expert will tell him the other countries won’t give him), and he’ll then go out and say something along these lines: “I really wanted to remain in a reformed EU, but the other countries have turned their backs on us, so I will with a heavy heart have to recommend that this great nation leaves the EU.”

Why is Cameron doing this? My guess is it’s to save the Conservative party. If he came out in favour of leaving the EU already, some pro-business Tories would break out, and if he campaigned in favour of EU membership, a very large number of MPs would rebel. By pretending to negotiate in good faith, he keeps the pro-EU Tories happy, and by setting the negotiations up to fail, he ensures the Eurosceptics will eventually be happy.

I was mulling this over when my beloved wife pointed out that I might have been right but that this analysis was overtaken by events. In normal circumstances, a lot of EU countries would have been quietly relieved to see the UK leave, so they wouldn’t have been willing to agree to many of his demands (and in fact Angela Merkel gave them a rather lukewarm reception when he first aired them).

However, these are not normal circumstances. The whole world is getting rather destabilised, and the EU is facing a lot of obstacles on many fronts simultaneously. The EU leaders therefore were afraid the whole edifice would come tumbling down if they gave Cameron the cold shoulder, so they were forced to agree to his proposals without major changes. As a result, he couldn’t really claim to have been let down.

However, this leaves Cameron in a horrible position. As John Rentoul described it in The Independent:

If Cameron wins this referendum he will be hobbled by his party. Within moments of the result, the anti-EU Tory party will be looking towards the next referendum. At some point the EU treaties will have to be rewritten and it will be hard to resist demands for another referendum. Far from settling the European question, this referendum could ensure that Europe will dominate the Tory party’s choice of Cameron’s successor. […]

If Cameron loses the referendum, forget all his hints about staying on. His time would be over. His party would not countenance Brexit negotiations being handled by a leader who wanted to stay in. One way or the other, this is the end of his premiership: we just don’t know how or exactly when.

I’ve said before that Cameron seems to be a clever tactician but a lousy strategist. I guess this might be yet another example of this, because surely he’s ended up somewhere he never wanted to be.

I wouldn’t mind the Tories half as much if they were just a fringe freak show (a bit like UKIP), but living in a country where these hapless wretched people have a parliamentary majority scares me witless.

The only glimmer of hope is that perhaps this referendum will lead to Scottish independence sooner rather than later.