Why this anarchist will be voting Remain on Thursday


Jock Coats

Almost every self-declared libertarian I’ve heard from seems to believe some version of the idea that “leaving the EU is the greatest step toward liberty we can make in our lifetimes”.

I disagree. In fact I go further and suggest it would be a regressive step to give those who wish to rule us from the den of thieves and liars at Westminster free rein, as they see it, to get on with what Michael Gove chillingly to me at least called “patriotic renewal”. For a couple of decades at least they will claim, every election, and we will likely agree by voting for them, that they need more power and more time to repatriate the powers and regulations they claim Brussels has stolen from us.

But my decision is based on more than that. This has been a tiresome few months. Claims and counterclaims from people I mistrust the most in the world are supposed to sway us to their side. I said in March that I would likely vote to remain, but for almost entirely negative reasons: I have no love for the institutions of the EU; I think Cameron’s idea of “reforms” were more like a “black op” to ensure people felt it was an unyielding organisation that we would be better leaving.

Personally, I believe that, as the words of the treaty go, “ever closer union of the peoples of Europe” is, in fact, an admirable aim, that politicians have corrupted into “ever closer union of the government of Europe”. Yet I don’t think we can help to achieve the admirable aim from the outside. And nor can we help to ensure the less admirable, political aims, will not happen from the outside. And we will be left as a mediocre blowhard country on the edge of a 500 million strong superstate anyway. Eclipsed.

What of some of the claims of those who want to leave that we will be better off out? Personally I think they are living in a dream world. They keep going on about our economic strength. And it is true, if you use a crude measure of GDP we remain a “world economic power”. But do we, really?

When you look at Gross National Income per capita, equalised out to take into account the cost of living in different countries (“purchasing power parity”) we are mediocre. This measure includes money we earn from foreign investments and excludes money taken out by overseas investors in Britain. It’s a much truer measure of our individual prosperity than the crude GDP everyone likes to quote.

We have been mediocre for a long time. As I wrote a few years ago, by this measure we have, for most of the past forty years, been at best seventh of the nine members of the EU when we joined. And twelfth or thirteenth of the fifteen members in 1995. In 1980 for God’s sake we were worse off than Greece! We are doing slightly better at the moment, because others have been in deeper recession for longer, but when that rights itself we will no doubt dip back to the long term trend of mediocrity. We are still only 27th in the world, behind Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Finland, France and Ireland of our EU partners. Crucially, the ones that people have compared our possible life outside the EU to, Norway and Switzerland, are first and fourth in the world, ahead of all the EU other than tiny Luxembourg.

If there is a tsunami of international money currently not trading with us, where is it, and why are they not doing so? I simply do not believe they are not doing so because we are in the EU. I don’t believe it exists. Who are they trading with whom they would drop to trade with us? Indeed a lot of our trade with the rest of the world may be utterly dependent on being in the EU, and will seek other, EU, trading partners if we leave.

What about the claimed “democratic deficit” in Europe? Well, first, just because things are done differently there, does not make them undemocratic. There are 28 political systems in the union and the Brussels system will not be identical to any of them. The only time in my adult life I have been able to vote for someone who actually ends up representing me is in EU elections under the proportional system. I have never once been represented in Westminster by someone I actually voted for. Our effectively two party system affords little differences of opinion. At least in the European parliament there are multiple political groups, with members from across the union, to give common voice to my liberal political outlook.

As for “unelected bureaucrats” being in control, how is that any different from here. Our permanent civil service is the thing that draws up bills following the agreement of a government whom we don’t get to elect directly anyway. More than half of our legislators are unelected, often failed or superannuated politicians, but also political place people put there through patronage, sometimes suspect, always undemocratic. Who could rise to Michael Gove’s challenge and be able to name any of the British Supreme Court, or the permanent bureaucracy?

The much vaunted ability of our legislators to bring forward legislation of their own is a chimera. Most are government bills, and most privately initiated bills stand no chance of reaching the statute books unless supported by the government. This is itself little different from getting the agreement at the start, which is how our elected EU parliamentarians have to do it.

I am much more sanguine about “foreigners” making our laws. It means that different political opinion from across a diverse ranger of nations and cultures have to agree, which to me is far better than just whatever party gets about 35% of the votes in Britain.

What about immigration? I actually find EU migration less of a problem than that from outside the EU. I don’t have much problem with either as an open borders advocate anyway. But our way of “controlling” immigration since at least the seventies has been to ask people who come here to make a permanent choice: to apply for permanent residency and hopefully citizenship. This crystallizes their status, where perhaps previously people from the commonwealth would want to come here, make their fortune and head back home to improve their own families and countries. EU migration, on the other hand, is “free movement” – people can go home as well as come here. We’ve already seen a wave of previous Polish workers head home when the economic conditions improved for them at home. I’d expect to see much more of that in future as it becomes the norm (especially, as mentioned above, because we are at best a mediocre economy anyway and more likely, more quickly, to be comparable with “back home” wherever that is). Overall, however, immigration is just not an argument for me. If there are shortages of public services or housing or whatever, that’s because of decisions made by our politicians unable to manage the country properly, not because of migrants themselves.

Finally, there are dozens and dozens of secessionist movements within Europe, from the most well known Scottish and Catalan independence movements, to Tyrollean or Silesian secessionists and the campaign to split Belgium into its ethnic constituents. I want to see a world of small polities ruling themselves as much as is practical. In Europe we get an opportunity to mix with them and try and support them, as, hopefully, they may one day do for Oxfordshire or Wessex. Giving our politicians what they call “national sovereignty” back reinforces the model of nation state I would like to move away from.

So remain it is. I see less chance for “freedom” under a Westminster with a renewed sense of their own sovereignty and mandate.

 

 

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15 comments

  • Some interesting, but ultimately unconvincing points, particularly about Britain’s economic mediocrity. However, as a measure of capacity to buy things, GDP is more relevant to foreign investors/traders, about which much of the main economic arguments are about.
    Also, the point about proportional representation is irrelevant, since MEPs do nothing. The reason why PR works for the European Parliament is because it cannot interrupt decisive government but it allows them to maintain the charade of democracy.
    The difference between EU bureaucrats and the UK Civil Service is that the latter (notionally if nothing else) does serve the government of the day, which has been voted for, albeit indirectly. There is no such notion for the EU Commissioners, whose oath demands that they must only serve their own interests. Indeed, neither are particularly democratic but the answer is surely more localised government, not more centralised international government. Similarly with secessionists abroad, the one thing that will prevent them from succeeding is the EU.
    It is also very odd to see a libertarian complaining about the inadequacy of politicians’ management of the country, though it appears to be something of a throw away remark so I’ll not dwell on it.

    • Additionally, whilst in the EU it negotiates on Britain’s behalf any trade deals etc. it enters. I fail to see why any country that is already trading with Britain would stop. Britain is a very large economy, and whilst “mediocre” in some senses (then again, so is most of the EU these days), it will have no problem prospering outside the EU. If it doesn’t, at least it will have the freedom to change paths.

  • I agree on the small-polities bit. But to get moving in that direction, we need to start reducing the size of political units. And Brexit is a potential opportunity to do that. Yes, a “Britain” sized unit is still far too big. But it could serve as a start.

  • I have to agree with the others. Also, remaining in the EU gives the shysters in Westminster free rein, as they then simply blame the EU for forcing them to do things they would be doing anyway.

    Adding another layer of government bureaucracy will not fix anything. The proportionally elected European Parliament, like Cymochles said, is an irrelevance, as it is not within the upper echelons of the EU and simply has a vote on measures proposed by the legislative areas within the EU.

    Agreed on EU migration being preferable to migration outwith it, but only on the basis that it is not subsidised. As the figures put out by MigrationWatch show, it takes a lot of twisting and contortion to argue that it is not currently subsidised.

    If the EU was nothing but a mutual defensive, free trade zone, like a Hanseatic League of sorts, I’d be fine with it. It’s not, it has superstate aspirations, so I have voted Out and have no regrets. Staying in the EU in the hopes that it will become something better is wishful thinking. Something would need to be reborn from its ashes.

    • To add to this, whilst I am no fan of democracy, the next big thing to focus on will be ending the FPTP system. Bringing back some kind of property or citizenship requirement into voting would also be good but unlikely to occur, as will be pushing for greater and greater decentralisation of power within Britain, down to the level of cities.

  • Your vote to remain aids the super-state to become one of the nation states you say you reject, Jock, and it was formed so it could afford to go to war. The common agricultural policy [CAP] is just in case of war so institutionally the EU wants war.

    This was clear to me in 1974. It is only the differences of languages, and the like, that has slowed this war machine down.

    A UK exit will weaken it.

  • “I want to see a world of small polities ruling themselves as much as is practical”, therefore I am voting for an unaccountable communist superstate. Because then your laws are blessed by the Diversity fairy.

  • While a contrary view is very welcome, I don’t find the article cogent, I’m afraid. There are some good arguments for Remain, but few of them have been made here.

    I’m short of time, so will just take two points at random:

    1. Reference is made to comparisons of GNP (PPP), the author quite correctly pointing out that the UK is mediocre in this regard, but I do not see how that is an argument against leaving the EU. Indeed, for anybody familiar with recent British economic history, it could be said that mediocre comparative living standards are a strong argument for LEAVE, not REMAIN. The author even undermines his own argument in my eyes by referring to the superior PPP performance of Norway and Switzerland, who are outside the EU.

    2. The author doesn’t take account of the reality that ‘hard’ Brexit is not a realistic option for Britain. Our exit from the EU (if it happens), will be ‘soft’, will be negotiated over many years and – most probably – will involve a transition to EFTA membership, which means we will remain in the single market. That being the case, much of what the author says in opposition to Brexit is rendered redundant or inapplicable. We will remain part of the trading bloc and we will also most likely retain full membership of other non-EU institutions such as the ECHR, it’s just that we will not have political and legislative status as EU members. The downside of this is that we will have little or no say in how the EU directs and legislates the Continental single market. The upside is that we will regain a direct say in the decisions of global institutions, which the EU mostly mediates for us anyway, so the situation will balance out.

    3. The author also makes the typical mistake of anti-immigration/immigration-sceptic Remainers in thinking that leaving the EU will make no difference to non-EU migration to the UK. There is some truth in this in that we will still need a political movement to stop mass immigration irrespective of whether we are in the EU, and it will also be noted that we are not in the Schengen Area and still we are subject to the practicalities of free movement and unhindered within the EU as if we had no border controls, but by leaving the EU we regain full independence over movement/migration policies for the UK and that has to be a step in the right direction.

  • It’s about Nationalism v Globalism. That is the clearest divide that best grabs the publics attention and best illustrates where we are. I’m beginning to think alt.right is the way forward.

    • Yes, agreed on the split as it stands. I think it needs to evolve into a more radical cleave: racialist/identitarian versus mixed-racialist/supra-nationalist. That would be very exciting, but I will probably be disappointed.

      I don’t think the Alt Right or neoreaction are the answer. These are largely just internet movements and don’t have a future off-line. But it’s difficult to say what is the way forward in terms of ideology and political groupings. Some people say it should be social and moral conservatives/patriots versus liberals but a lot of left-wing liberals are also against globalism.

      I think if the vote is for Leave, which I hope it will be, we are going to be in for some very interesting times. Cameron will have to go, and the Establishment will scramble and present a ‘business as usual’ front in the form of a new Conservative premier. There will be promises made of a deal with EFTA to keep us within the single market.

      I hope people will see through it.

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  • My view on CMP’s dichotomy of nationalism versus globalism is almost exactly perpendicular. For me, in economic terms, we human beings need the biggest possible unit – a world-wide free market. In political terms, we need the smallest possible units – down to the family and the individual.

    Tom’s “more radical cleave” still, for me, doesn’t cut to the issue. The problem is that we need to look at economics and politics from different angles. We can start by agreeing that ideas like “GDP” are old hat, and take it from there.

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