Wednesday 9 October 2019

Re-interpreting the facts

From the outset, a major part of the case put by the Brexiteers has revolved around the idea that the institutions of the EU wield power that rightfully belongs to sovereign states and weaken those states in the process.  As Ian Dunt put it in an article in the Irish Times, “Their entire working assumption about world politics was that international cooperation sucked power from the nation state”.  In isolation, and from a theoretical rather than empirical view, it’s not wholly unreasonable.  It is, after all, a formulation of the fear which led some independentistas, including myself, to oppose membership of the EU back in the 1970s.  There is a problem, though, when people cling to a theoretical view which is not grounded in empiricism, and which events prove to be unfounded.
One of the things that the whole Brexit process has demonstrated is the way in which a group of nations acting collectively can actually strengthen rather than weaken the individual parts.  Specifically, the Republic of Ireland has ended up with a stronger hand in the process than its very much bigger neighbour, because the EU institutions have sought to protect member states against the demands and exceptionalism of a would-be non-member.  It is almost the exact opposite of a world view in which, as Dunt puts it again, “…international relations [is] a zero-sum game in which big countries are winners and small ones losers to be gobbled up”. 
It’s a reality which logic dictates ought to lead to a change in outlook, but the cognitive dissonance involved has all been too much for them.  The EU’s support for Ireland’s position has led to some Brexiteers complaining that the EU is not being tough enough in bringing that small country into line for the benefit of the larger ones – in the same way as they themselves have simply over-ridden any and all objections from Scotland or Wales to their approach.  For them, that is the natural order of things.  If their complaint sounds like the complete reverse of what they were previously saying about ‘Europe’ dominating its member states, it’s not because they were previously wrong; it can only be because ‘Europe’ is using Ireland to pursue its own devious and nefarious objectives.  Every fact or event which undermines their own world view can be and is simply re-interpreted in ways which confirm and strengthen it.  It makes rational debate close to impossible.


Spirit of BME said...

What a good title you have for this post.
In the 70`s I recall the debate in Plaid Cymru and the emotion and energy that went into the debates.
The Communist Party of GB policy on the Common Market was that it was a “capitalist club” and had to be opposed at all cost – I think they might have been right on some aspects of that argument.
A small cell of communists in the party put this forward and their fellow travellers on the Left fell in line and took up this policy position and this happened in all the opposition parties, Tony Benn was their hero and they all admired him greatly.
Those who supported the Common Market did so on the mistaken belief that Wales could get independence earlier by being a member of this trade organisation (as it was seen at the time) and the CM would welcome every new state and the creation of states would be a seamless process. Well they got that wrong, Big time!!
I never heard any such views as Ian Dunt statement in all the time this was debated in Conference – but, again time can always change views and facts.

John Dixon said...

Setting aside my usual aversion to using the terms 'right' and 'left', it is indeed interesting, is it not, that in broad terms it was the right which supported membership of the Common Market in the 1970s whilst the left opposed it, but fast forward to the 2010s and it is now the left supporting membership of the EU whilst the right oppose it.

I agreed with the view in the 1970s that the Common Market was indeed a "capitalist club", bent on extending marketisation; and I'm not sure that events have disproved that broad thesis. What events have shown, however, is that in much of continental Europe, there is more of a consensus around a form of social democracy which provides a degree of restraint on red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism, and it turns out that it is the Little Englander Free Marketeers who pose the greater danger. I suspect, but don't have hard evidence to demonstrate this, that the driver for this difference in approaches may actually be more to do with a more consensual and proportional political system which drives parties towards the 'centre' if they wish to govern, whilst a country like the UK clinging to FPTP can swing rather more dramatically between political outlooks on the basis of minority support.

"Those who supported the Common Market did so on the mistaken belief that Wales could get independence earlier by being a member of this trade organisation (as it was seen at the time) and the CM would welcome every new state and the creation of states would be a seamless process. Well they got that wrong." I don't believe that this is a fair representation of their position; it looks more like a post hoc rationalisation to me. At the time, I interpreted their stance more in terms of a) Plaid's traditional reluctance to espouse independence openly and honestly, b) general support for the capitalist model and c) an update of the traditional view within Plaid that Wales was or should be a naturally 'European' country rather than an insular one on the fringes. I think that the idea that membership would bolster the creation of new states came later.

I still tend to the view that membership of the EU makes independence a more realistic prospect, for two reasons, one positive and the other nagative. The negative reason is that it appears to me that being part of an offshore island state with a large isolationist neighbour means that Wales would be more tightly bound to England in regulatory terms, making independence a bigger ask. The positive one is that, in a union of 28 states of nominally equal status, which is itself still looking to further enlarge its membership, the difference between being part of one member state and being a full member state in our own right is a much less disruptive change. Whether that makes it 'easier' to implement is a rather different question, but what I think it does do is make it easier to persuade people to vote for it. The ease of 'implementation' after that depends less on what 'Europe' says than on whether the member state concerned (in this case the UK) accepts the decision of the people, and whether that decision has been achieved in conformity with the constitutional provisions of that member state. The EU is, after all, an organisation which represents the governments of member states rather than their populations (whether it should be thus is a question for another time - I'm just reflecting reality here).

Spirit of BME said...

I think your first paragraph says it all.
This is encapsulated by the Benn family who have “been on a journey” I think is the nice way of putting it.
Another freighting similarity between these two dates, are politicians and parties who have no input or influence on the outcome, but can`t resist indulging their egos, emotion, time and energy – but no one is listening to them.
The administration in Scotland and Wales clear their agenda to vent their feelings as they see an impact ,but the subjects are outside their remit – fine but should the tax payer be funding this time .I would be very happy for them to do this if they picked up the operational costs of holding these debates.