Thursday, 2 April 2015

Changing attitudes

On Tuesday, the Western Mail carried an article reporting an interview with Professor Patrick Minford of Cardiff Business School which neatly – although perhaps unintentionally – encapsulated one of the main problems with the way in which UK politicians talk about the EU.  It talks about building a new relationship between the two partners – the EU and the UK – as though those two entities are in some way equivalent.
That is not the way the world looks from the point of view of the other members states of the EU.  From their perspective, this ‘them and us’ approach looks very strange, not to say semi-detached.
Around 40 years ago, I was one of a group of Plaid members who went on a fact-finding trip to Brussels and Luxembourg.  It was largely funded by the EEC itself, as part of a clear attempt to persuade various groups and parties in the UK to start liking the institution.  (It didn’t work at the time, but that’s another story.)
One of my abiding memories is of two visits made in quick succession; the first to the office of the UK Permanent Representative, and the second (after they’d obtained special permission from Dublin) to the Irish equivalent.  The contrast was striking.
We were welcomed to the first very formally by a man dressed in a three-piece suit and bow tie with a very posh accent who politely offered us tea before asking “Now gentlemen, how can I help you?” and waiting for our questions.  At the second, an Irishman in a sports jacket and open collar said “Come on in boys.  Would you like a drop of whiskey?”, before expounding on the advantages of membership as seen from an Irish perspective.
That difference in approach was more than just superficial; it was clear that the UK saw the EEC (as it was then) as an external body with which we had a relationship; the Irish saw it as an association of which their country was a member.  That underlying UK attitude has changed little, if at all, over the past four decades.
Worse, it shows no sign of changing any time soon.  Wales is still being represented, badly, by people who seem not really to want to be there.  If the Tories remain in government, and if a referendum is subsequently held, the result will depend more on whether the people of the countries of these islands share that mindset towards the EU than on whether we get more out than we put in.  But all political debate seems to revolve around the latter rather than around the former.  Who's putting the positive case?


Peter Freeman said...

Has it really been 40 years?
Do you remember the Plaid conference of '71 when Robyn Lewis welcomed everyone in Welsh then in all the other languages of the Common Market. He predicted that such an introduction would soon be the norm, "But without the Welsh"
In '75 I was a member of Swansea Trades Council and active in the "Get Britain out" campaign. We organized a well attended public meeting that was addressed by a young Marxist firebrand, Dafydd Elis Thomas. He produced a document, prepared by Plaid, that described the fate of the coal and steel industries in Wales if we stayed in the EEC. It was remarkably accurate as it turns out.

Things and people change over time, though for me it seems like only yesterday.

G Horton-Jones said...

The coal industry was bled to death by the decision to axe steam overnight and substitute diesel powered units coupled with the Beeching axe which effectively destroyed the use of the railways to carry freight It is ironic that the only line to be allowed to carry general freight per se is the Mid Wales line and it carries small packages of fish
The Conservatives under Thatcher closed the Mines as a political act the tragedy was that no thought was given to the viability of many all had to go
We are in a period of relatively cheap oil but how long this will last is very uncertain We only know that the industry will decline as global use is greater than planetary generation