Monday 15 July 2013

Who's really shocked?

The Western Mail reported on Saturday what it described as a “shock” finding that more Welsh people would vote to leave the European Union than would vote to stay if a referendum were held now.  I’m not sure why that should be a shock to anybody.  As I posted in December last year, I can see no reason for believing that the results of such a referendum would be significantly different in Wales than in England.
They has certainly been some fantasising by some Welsh politicians about the constitutional crisis which would arise if the result were to be different in Wales from the result in England, but no real examination as to why one would believe that the result would be that different.  The fact that the chattering classes in Wales - politicians and journalists alike - hold pro-EU viewpoints does not and never did automatically mean that those voting in any referendum would agree with those viewpoints, yet the assumption that they would seems to have been taken as read.
According to the Western Mail report, the results were described as “reflecting people’s deep disquiet with the current direction of the EU”.  I doubt it.  I’m pretty sure that it’s not such a thought-through reaction as that; in fact, I rather suspect that in Wales, as in England, public reaction to the EU is based on far more visceral concerns, and relates to the sort of attitudes towards foreigners and immigration which are to be found in some of the tabloids.
It’s notable that the main argument used in defence of the EU is that Wales has benefited tremendously in terms of EU structural funding.  Whilst it’s true that Wales has benefited, the argument by opponents of the EU that Brussels is simply redistributing money that “we” have given them is a powerful one.  Certainly, the EU has done a better job of geographical redistribution of funding within the UK than any UK government of either party has achieved, but there is no necessary reason why that should be so. 
And if the best argument that politicians in Wales, particularly Labour politicians, can produce in favour of the EU is that the EU does a better job than they can of distributing UK funds, then the argument seems to be lost from the outset.
Whilst the arguments for and against the EU have usually been presented in economic terms, that was never the basis on which the EU was founded.  In that sense there is a direct parallel with the argument about independence for Wales – much of the debate revolves around economics, but those of us who argue for an independent Wales have never seen economics is the main reason for seeking independence.  And there’s another parallel as well – people are increasingly afraid to put any arguments which aren’t based solely on economic benefit.  Why?


Anonymous said...

I suppose the reason the EU was founded was to prevent war between France and Germany and as a spin off to further democracy over dictatorship and limit the vicious historical ethnic hatreds, especially relevant as the EU has expanded eastwards.

It has certainly been successful in preventing a war between France and Germany although it is doubtful if they would have gone to war again, even without an EU.

Certainly Spain, Protugal and Greece are now democratic. Although they became so before joining the EU. The countries of the old Soviet bloc have also become democracies, although this probably has more to do with Washington than Brussels.

If the highly centralised EU with it's one size fits all policies can continue to promote such virtues are doubtful.

As someone who supports Welsh independence I don't really want to swap Brussels rule for London rule. The people, as is usually the case, have got it right and the political class haven't got a clue.

G Horton-Jones said...

Welcome back

My answer to why is that under Margaret Thatcher but not her alone

The notion of public good in England which to an extent held people together during the War and the decade after became replaced with that of personal gain and self interest as epitomised by yuppies, privatisation, sale of housing stock and the steady dumping of traditional industries who were mainly Labour voters and were community based

Pete said...

The best argument I ever heard for the EU was given by a Eurosceptic. Winnie Ewing, when she was an MEP gave a speech at a fringe meeting during a Plaid conference. Can't remember when. She said that as a child during World War II her mother would dread the visit of the Postman. She would pray that he would not come to their door in case it was bad news about her father.
She went to the European Parliament opposed to the whole thing, until she saw the members divided, not by country but by politics. MEP's from different countries sat together bound by political views not by xenophobia. It converted her.
John, you and I belong to the very first generation of Welshmen who were not conscripted or press ganged into a European war. That alone seems reason enough for the EU to me.
As you pointed out, none of this has anything to do with economics. The EU may be a long way from its ideals but the principles of national cooperation are still worth trying.