Monday, 11 January 2016

It's about vision, not economics

A couple of times over the past year, most recently here, I’ve posted on the forthcoming referendum on membership of the EU; or, more specifically, on my concern that reducing it to a simple question of economics rather than one of the type of future we want to see plays into the hands of those who want to see the UK leave the EU. 
The problem with much of the argument that I’ve heard to date is that it is based on promoting a fear of change rather than on any positive virtues.  That in turn is based on an assumption that the future within the EU is more readily knowable than the future outside it.  In the short term, that’s true, but we’re making a long term decision here, and the long term economic future of the UK within the EU is not really any more knowable that the long term future outside the EU. For what it’s worth, over the long term, I’m not convinced that there would be much difference in the economic outcomes of a decision to remain and a decision to leave.
From a Welsh perspective, I’d continue to argue that the question we have to ask ourselves is whether we want to see Wales as a small appendage of a very English state trying to stand alone in the world, or whether we want to see our small nation playing a part alongside the other small nations of an essentially multinational and multilingual Europe.  That’s not really an economic question at all; it is a political one.  And it’s not an argument which presents the EU as some sort of ideal organisation either.  It’s a union which is continually, albeit slowly, evolving and changing, but which holds the potential for a combination of local autonomy and shared sovereignty in a union of consenting partners looking to the future rather than the past.
I’m pleased to see at least one of Wales’ politicians making a similar point - and pleasantly surprised that it’s a member of the Labour Party.


Anonymous said...

I, too want Wales to remain in the EU as part of our continued UK membership. Mind, I have no qualms whatsoever that England&Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland could survive outside of such if necessary.

As for your talk about 'proud Welsh' and a 'Welsh perspective' I think it's important that you recognise that by remaining within the EU we are essentially saying goodbye to the Welsh language as a language of work and hello to a much more competitive environment not only for inward investment but also for goods and services.

No, this matter has absolutely nothing to do with politics and absolutely everything to do with economic realism. And it's time we started to see the real Wales, the Wales of the pre-1980's make a comeback. The Wales of education and hard work and a common culture that is shared throughout the UK.

Long live Wales.

John Dixon said...

I can't find any reference to 'proud Welsh' in what I wrote - perhaps you are responding to something else?

"by remaining within the EU we are essentially saying goodbye to the Welsh language as a language of work" is an interesting assertion, but I'm not sure that there is any factual or rational basis for making it. Being part of a union where multilingualism is the norm, and where a variety of 'minority' languages are recognised as well as the official languages seems to me to be a better option for Welsh than being part of what is, to all intents and purposes, a mono-lingual state.

"hello to a much more competitive environment not only for inward investment but also for goods and services" is another sweeping and unevidenced assertion. I'm not sure why you believe that being in the EU single market will be more competitive than trying to stand alone outside it; it seems more likely to me that the reverse would be true.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, John.

Welsh is a language of work in some areas of public administration and local government, in some areas of education, in the cultural "industry" (some of the small broadcasting companies, S4C and some charities), and I suppose in some small shops. EU membership or not has no real bearing on Welsh in the workplace.

Anonymous said...

08:43 & 10:34

i) For Wales to be admitted into the EU in its own right the country would need to put forward a credible economic plan. Any part of such a plan would deal with the matter of 'inward investment'. In other words, the need 'to attract' more inward investment relative to others. Remaining part of the EU would give us an immediate advantage over England. But having a business language other than English, or shared with English would immediately put us behind Northern Ireland and Scotland. And arguably Eire too. I don't see how anyone could possibly argue otherwise.

ii) If you want to design and manufacture cars in Europe you have to compete with the best in the world. We didn't manage it with BMC and BL. Granted we now assemble on behalf of many foreign owned entities but this isn't quite the same thing. Similarly so with vacuum production. Yes, Dyson has succeeded against world class competition in the form of Electrolux, Bosch and Miele but even James Dyson is desperate to leave the EU because of the nightmare of trying to compete against those other European firms within Europe. And it's the same for almost every industry going. Europe has world leaders and the highest world class controls and standards in almost every sector. You think selling to the likes of Africa, China, Russia, Brazil or India isn't a whole lot easier, selling into markets where you don't have to adhere to and pay for all the EU standards and protocols? Think again my friends, think again.

Now you can understand why so many in business would like to leave the EU. To survive within it is becoming increasingly competitive.

Irealnd relative advantage over the rest of the UK.

John Dixon said...

i) Having such a simplistic black-and-white view of the world is easy, and avoids the need for any thought or analysis; but its relationship to reality is at best tangential. What conditions Wales would or would not need to meet to allow independent membership of the EU is untested water. 'Internal expansion' is not something which any of the treaties have ever allowed for, but that omission cannot simply be taken to mean that the criteria for a change of government structure in a state within the union would be the same as those for admission of a new member from outside the union. In truth, I don't know what would happen (although I believe that pragmatism would apply, based on the actions of the EU in the past). Neither do you, and neither do any of the best legal brains. But I can tell you that operating in more than one language is the norm rather than the exception within the EU; it only looks odd from an anglophone perspective.

ii) Selling into different markest brings different challenges, certainly. I'm not convinced that selling to the BRIC countries etc. is either easier or harder than selling within the EU; it's just different. But selling into non-EU countries doesn't avoid competition with the likes of Germany either; whether the UK is in or out of the EU, that competition for non-EU markets will continue. Failing to comply with EU standards would merely close one market with no guarantee of opening another.

It's true that 'many in business would like to leave the EU', but all the evidence that I've seen suggests that they're heavily outnumbered by those who want to stay. (That isn't an argument either way, by the way - I don't think we should necessarily be guided by what multi-national capital wants - it merely underlines your penchant for assertion of those things you wish to be true rather than consideration of evidence.)

Anonymous said...

i) It's nothing about 'odd'. Or about the number of languages in use. It's about giving away a strategic advantage that is well known and well proven and the envy of all the other nations of the EU.

I doubt you've ever worked in business. Real business. Competitive business.

ii) I agree with much of your point ii) but most of those politicians wanting to leave the EU will not. The question to them should always be 'how come Germany doesn't have any trouble selling to major non-EU markets like China. Why is it that we need to leave the EU to achieve success in such markets?'. And the truthful answer is that we can only compete with Germany selling into these markets by selling at a much cheaper price. And to get our prices down we either need a weak currency or less regulation in the form of controls and standards. Or preferably both!

I would like to suggest your comments are somewhat disingenuous. But I do believe you, like so many others, really haven't thought this through.

John Dixon said...

This discussion is wandering further and further from the original point, so I do not intend to continue it further after this comment. Your obsession with the Welsh language as some sort of disadvantage spoils an otherwise sensible point that having a business population which can all speak the world's global trading language is advantageous. That misses two points, however. The first is that the same is increasingly true in many other countries anyway, even where English isn't the day-to-day language of the majority of the population, so the advantage is eroding. (I have worked in real competitive business as it happens, including attending multinational meetings in places such as Sweden, Portugal, France and the Netherlands. English is the lingua franca (and many of those involved seem to speak it rather better than much of the UK population, but that's an aside)). The second is that using a single language for multinational business does not preclude the use of one or more other languages locally. Indeed, that is the norm in many countries.

Your answer to competing against other countries seems to be that we can never expect to compete fairly on the same terms as anyone else, so we should find some other advantage to lever in our favour, such as dropping standards or contriving to devalue the pound. I'm sure that I'm not alone in finding that a pretty depressing view.

Anonymous said...

That's a shame, John. I can't work out where your opponent wants "Wales to remain in the EU as part of our continued UK membership", or for "Wales to be admitted into the EU in its own right".

At what point does Wales have a business language other than English? We would still have English.

Anon is wrong on trade. I am the first to note that we trade a great deal with the EU, but our trade outside the EU is slightly greater already. Does Anon know this? He/she is keen to allege that others haven't worked in "business" after all.

Welsh is not an issue when it comes to trade, and indeed when it comes to business generally (notwithstanding the issue of getting more customer service in Welsh- this doesn't affect investment decisions).

Business, for whatever their views are worth, mostly wants to stay in the EU. This is the official position of both the CBI and FSB. Hence the over the top criticism from the far-left that the EU is a "capitalist club".