Sunday 7 June 2015

Europe's strength has always been diversity

As far as complete bastards go, I'm up there with the best of them, but the very pinnacle of complete bastardy is Very British Dude (VBD) who offers a thoughtful piece on why he would vote to stay in the EU. Of all the arguments for staying in, his is one of the very few worthy of consideration. He argues that Putin fears the EU and that weakening the EU works to his advantage.

That's not an unreasonable conclusion. You do have to wonder why the most ardently pro-Ukip media outlet is Russia Today, and they certainly gave the SNP a fair hearing. But as he argues, the economic consequences of Brexit are inconsequential, a position on which we can agree, I would argue that British membership of the EU is inconsequential to European defence.

Firstly, there is no common EU defence position, nor is there ever likely to be. Operation Unified Protector showed the impossibility of obtaining an EU mandate for military action and while the operation went ahead notionally as an EU initiative, NATO was the executor, acting without Germany and without the consent of all member states. The EU was happy to wave the flag and take the credit, but it wasn't an EU operation - and was never likely to be.

That said, where future Russian aggression is concerned, it is unlikely that there would not be a European consensus and it is absolutely inconceivable that Britain would not be a key contributor (and leader) of any operation. While defence cuts have been more severe than either VBD or I would like, what keeps our forces alive are not so much the toys as the systems. The logistics, the institutions and the intelligence - all of which are as healthy as ever they were.

It is unlikely that any moves against Russia could succeed without a strong British role and there is no cause to believe that the UK would not enjoy a privileged position at the top EU table in a geopolitical crisis of that magnitude. What we bring to the table buys us all the influence we could possibly want.

But that's just the grubby details. What Brexit represents is a signal. A gesture. And that quite clearly does signal a blow for the EU - that the United Kingdom has lost confidence in it - which may even inspire other breakaway movements in other member states. That would indeed be music to Putin's ears. It is for this reason the US wants us to stay in the EU.

It's precisely for that reason I think we should leave. As VBD notes, Russia is wounded and humiliated, and not at all enthused by our cultural hegemony. Our persistent meddling in Russian institutions by international NGOs is hugely unwelcome. Further antagonising Russia, we see the US parading the latest military toys just a few miles off the Russian border. The US defence industry is exploiting the tensions playing to the gullibility of US officials which in turn reignites a level of cold war escalation. It is ill-advised.

Parking a squadron of Typhoons in Estonia s probably not a good idea either, and for all we complain at Tupolev Tu-95 Bears flying over the North Sea, we seem to have a blind spot for the daily overflights of RC135's from RAF Waddington. Russian displeasure with the West is not entirely without justification. No doubt VBD would call me a quisling for daring to suggest it, but I think we are contributing to a feedback loop.

As to the notion that the EU has in some way promoted democracy in countries like Poland, saying it made Poland richer, well, that's a bit of a moot point. Poland could hardly have been poorer by the time of the collapse of the USSR, which was milking Poland for all it was worth.

Knowing that there were cultural affiliations in both directions, the intelligent thing to do would have been to create an Efta style bloc for the former Soviet states (as was originally intended) with EU affiliate status as part of the EEA. That would have been a great deal more sensible in that it acknowledges the cultural, geographical and historical links with Russia. It could have been a link in a chain helping to open up Russia rather put up the walls we see today. Arguably such an Efta style bloc would have seen Poland far richer than it is today with access to markets in both directions.

I am aware VBD sees Russian annexation of Crimea as an unprovoked act of aggression, but opinion is divided on the subject to say the least. What we can say is the EU could have played it smarter and slower. A diplomatically aggressive move to ram through the EU association agreement was seen by Russia as a slap in the face. The ultimate outcome being sanctions that make everybody poorer. Polish agricultural exports have suffered especially. A two-way FTA for Ukraine would have been less confrontational. Instead, Russia is now beyond the reach of persuasion, it's a done deal and Ukrainians didn't get much of a say in it.

As to democracy, what we've seen is very little progress from the grubby corruption that has always existed in Eastern Europe, allowing EU farming corporates to buy up land wholesale, effectively gutting rural economies causing an exodus to the cities and youth unemployment. Plenty of Western oligarchs have moved in to take what they can get.

I don't know how VBD defines democracy, but the word democracy stems from the Greek word, dēmokratía, comprising two parts: dêmos "people" and kratos "power". Without a demos, there is no democracy. But people without power is not democracy either. Empty voting rituals alone do not constitute a democracy, and by my measure not even the UK constitutes a democracy when you look at just how little power councillors have. Not at any level does the EU constitute a democracy. 1.2 MEPs per million UK citizens is not democracy - and if their collective voice can be ignored, it doesn't even approach democracy.

The short of it is that an over powerful EU is not actually conducive to regional stability. If anything Brexit is a signal that the EU is not going to get its grand superstate, which might well diffuse tensions both with Russia and internally. The EU does not enjoy the mandate it thinks it does and demoting it to the free trade bloc that we wanted to solves more problems than it creates. An EU superstate with US backing looming down on Russia is not going to engender the kind of behaviour we would like to see from them either. Quite the opposite.

VBD's concerns are also built on a rather large hypothetical that Putin could or would mount any kind of aggression. As VBD notes Putin could not do so without being wiped off the board. In short, it isn't going to happen. Putin is not suicidal - and Brexit does not weaken NATO.

To say that the EU is overwhelmingly a force for good is something of a rose tinted view. It is a steamroller that imposes its values on peoples at a pace faster than nations can evolve, often ignoring the very delicate local balance of power, creating tensions where none previously existed, in some cases with its dogmatic free market ideology wrecking industries that define a country and its culture, paving the way for massive corporate exploitation - and you don't have to be a raving lefty to say so.

Norway has protectionism for a reason. Without agricultural protection it simply wouldn't have an agricultural sector which as much as it is vital for food security it is also integral to defence, tourism and recreation. While capitalism is a force of nature, humanity tames forces of nature and decides where to let it run free to our own advantage, and where to build walls against the tide. The EU rips up those walls and says "let there be capitalism" no matter whether it rips at the fabric of our culture and heritage. I would certainly prefer to see Arbroath as the thriving fishing port it once was than the dilapidated Tesco town it is now, where the only thing that really thrives is welfare dependency. Sovereignty and real democracy of nations is what protects our diversity and vitality.

Finally, VBD asserts that Brexit would trigger another Scottish referendum. Something of a moot point since the SNP are pushing for one anyway. In the worst case scenario, that they do leave, it won't make much material difference to the status quo. Full fiscal independent puts the SNP's spending plans in the bin straight away, and when their defence is tied to ours, it is unlikely the British Army would break up - and there is no way Scotland would dump the royal connection. Nor is it likely Scotland would rejoin the EU or abandon the pound. It's just not feasible. If Britain leaving the EU is economically inconsequential, then Scotland leaving the UK is even more inconsequential. And if Scotland really thinks there is the remotest chance of Trident leaving Faslane, they are dreaming.

All Scottish independence means in reality is a bit more devolution - and if we didn't want that we should never have given Scotland a parliament to begin with. That said, after three years of SNP MPs making turds of themselves in Westminster, I expect a Yes campaign would lose a second referendum quite badly. Named Person is not making them any friends and more and more voters are seeing their true colours. I'm not complacent, but I'm a lot more relaxed about it than VBD.

Brexit just isn't the end of the world, it doesn't end international co-operation, it doesn't invite World War Three, nor does especially weaken the EU in practice. In fact it leaves it free to get on with whatever it needs to do to fix the Eurozone without us drawing red lines all over the shop. More than that, as an independent country, we can still teach the EU a thing or two and continue to lead it on the global stage. Britain is just impossible to ignore.

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