Saturday 11 June 2016

Only children are scared of a pin-prick

This may be my last bit of writing for a while. I deliberately organised things such that I’d be away during the referendum. I shall not be paying much attention to the news. My guess is that most of the people in the part of Spain I like to go to will be paying more attention to the football than to whether the UK chooses to stay in the EU or not. It will be good to get away from the poisonous atmosphere that referendums create. If I wake up one morning and find that we’ve decided to leave the EU, I will be full of hope for the future. If, on the other hand, I wake up to find we’ve chosen to remain I will shrug my shoulders and may even feel a slight sense of relief. But whatever happens no-one will connect the decision with me. I frequently get complemented on the excellence of my English when I’m abroad. After all no-one who speaks Russian all day could possibly be from Scotland.

Maybe a person’s politics is due to their nature. I think people are a paradoxical mixture of morality and self-interest. Sometimes we try to dress up our self-interest as morality. But there are times when we are willing to do the right thing even if it might be contrary to our interest. If this were not the case no-one would willingly go to war.

It was always my contrariness that made me a Tory. Everyone I knew in Scotland was left wing. I found it so dull and I liked to argue. What better position to take than one that would inevitably lead to an argument? What’s more, being a Conservative in Scotland is about questioning the assumptions that everyone else has. So I began to question. From this followed what I believe.

I believe in free market economics and free trade. I don’t think equality of outcome is a goal that is either possible or desirable to obtain. Give each of us the same chance. Bring down the barriers that prevent an individual reaching his goals. But don’t try to organise everything from on high. Don’t think that government can control our destiny. Freedom is about taking responsibility for my own choices. Goodness requires that moral choices are a matter of individual decision rather than government diktat. Socialism destroys morality by forcing me to be moral. Sharing then becomes a matter of law rather than a matter of choice. It is legalised theft. If I rob a rich man’s house, I’m a crook but if I and my friends get the government to rob him, I’m a socialist.

From my belief in limited government and individual freedom I began some time ago to question the European Union. I have not by any means always been hostile to the EU. There are still circumstances in which I could support the EU.

If I was presented with the possibility of a fully democratic United States of Europe with a system of government as free as the USA, I would be inclined to take that offer. It matters little to me where the locus of government is. Someone from Texas is in an enviable position even if ultimately he is ruled from Washington rather than from Austin. The reason for this is that Texas has considerable devolved/local power and it is a part of democracy. It matters no more that Texas is sometimes outvoted by the USA as a whole than that Aberdeenshire is outvoted by Scotland.

It gradually became clear to me however that the EU was not remotely like the USA in terms of democracy. There is no sign that it will ever become a democracy either. For this reason for a democratic country to sign up to ever closer union is to sign up to every more tyranny. If Texas were a democracy, while the USA were not, it would be the duty of Texans to either try to make the USA more democratic or failing that to break free. But for so long as the USA remains a democracy, it is anti-democratic for Texas to secede, even if it is outvoted. Democracy depends on accepting the will of the majority. 

I concluded however,  that there was no way we could make the EU democratic. Power in the EU does not lie with the electorate. The European Parliament is not the source of power rather it is a front that gives the illusion of democracy in a similar way in which some communist countries used to pretend they were democratic. The people with real power in the EU are not elected but rather appointed, sometimes self-appointed. This is no more democratic than the House of Lords. Allowing the EU to overrule the democratic wishes of the British people is like allowing the House of Lords to overrule the House of Commons.

The situation in the EU is not getting better, rather it is getting worse.  Last summer I saw how the Greek people were treated. Their democracy has been crushed by an oligarchy who no-one can kick out. They have become a vassal state who must do what their German masters tell them. They may still have the illusion of democracy, but the substance has dissolved. I want no part of this.

Now we discover that Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, can decide whether or not the UK has access to the single market, just as he decided whether Greece would have a bail out or not. I keep hearing that the British Parliament may decide to ignore the result of the referendum. Some people suggest that we might be asked the same question again until we get the right answer. To this I say enough.

I do not oppose the countries of Europe cooperating or trading freely with each other. Within reason I am happy for us to be able to live and work in each other’s countries. But we don’t need to become an undemocratic superstate to do these things. Other countries in the world trade freely with each other. Some of them have formed trading groups. But none of these countries allow themselves to be subordinate to a supranational body in order to trade freely. Our freedom and our democracy is the very soul of our country. It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for trade?

The folly of the EU in setting up a single currency is now clear to everyone. It has caused poverty in southern Europe. The folly of trying to abolish national borders without being able to defend the border of the EU as a whole was shown last year. There is one hope for democracy in Europe. We must return in an orderly way to how we were. Let us re-establish national currencies and national democracies. Let us have at least a minimal amount of control at each nation border, for safety’s sake. Let the nation states of Europe become like all the other countries in the world, free and sovereign.

If Britain leaves the EU it just might be the example that Spain, Italy and Greece need to bring them back to democracy and prosperity. If on the other hand the EU tries to go still further on the road to becoming a superstate, at least we wouldn’t be a part of it. To remain is to be culpable for the loss of freedom, democracy and prosperity of our neighbours. Even if we by opting out of Schengen and the Euro have been spared much of their suffering we still have a duty towards our neighbour.

I am morally opposed to the EU because I have come to the conclusion that it does harm not so much to Britain as to others. In Britain we have always been willing to stick up for others. We fought wars to defend Belgium and Poland. We have been willing to suffer in order to do what was right. But what we are faced with now is nothing at all like that.

We faced an economic crisis in 2008 that led to some years of recession. But this happened even though we were in the EU. Such a crisis might happen again this year or next year. Alternatively we may avoid another deep recession. No-one knows. But economic shocks will happen at some point whether we are in the EU or not. What would happen if we voted to leave? There would be some short term uncertainty. This might make the pound fall. Stock markets may go up and down a bit. But these things will pass. Our biggest problem frankly would be that people like David Cameron have been so unpatriotic as to predict disaster for the UK economy if we decided to leave the EU. They have created something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But guess what, the day after leaving, everyone in the British government and indeed the EU would be doing their best to reassure markets and avert any difficulties that might arise.  In a remarkably short time we’d find everything was more or less back to normal. Britain will keep trading more or less freely with the EU. People from all our countries will be able more or less to live where we please. An arrangement will be made that satisfies the will of the British people and which enables us to have a relationship with the EU that is mutually beneficial.   

I cannot quite believe the level of Project Fear that Mr Cameron and his friends have developed during this referendum. The fact is that leaving the EU wouldn’t even be that difficult. Compared to Scottish independence, leaving the EU is remarkably straightforward. The only issue that matters is trade. But look around the world. Nearly every country in the world trades more or less freely with everyone else.  Even in Europe it is not necessary to be in the EU in order to trade freely with other European countries. There is not a single European country west of Belarus’ that does not trade freely with every other. The idea that Iceland, Switzerland, Norway and the Holy See can have free trade while being outside the EU, but Britain could not is ludicrous.

I think there is a natural majority in the UK against being a part of the EU. We have been reluctant from the start, for which reason we didn’t sign up to things like Schengen and the Euro. Few indeed of those who want to remain really love the EU. Fewer still want Britain to be part of a United States of Europe. These voters don’t much care for the EU, but they are scared to leave. They think that leaving will make us poorer or they’re worried about losing their right to live and work abroad. Many people who will vote to remain in the EU are doing so because of how they see themselves as vaguely internationalist and liberal. Some in Scotland are worried that if we vote to leave the EU, it will make a vote for Scottish independence more likely.

No-one can predict the future. But let’s look at the fundamentals. If the fifth largest economy in the world can’t afford to leave the EU, the EU really is a burning building with no exits. If tiny Iceland can be prosperous outside the EU, of course Britain can be. Long term we may even be more prosperous. If our example led to the EU going back to being a collection of nation states with their own currencies who trade freely with each other, this might be the one thing necessary to bring growth to countries like Greece and Italy. This would of course help us too. Best of all it would be far easier for the UK to arrange trade deals on our own rather than having to rely on the unanimous agreement of 28 very different countries with different interests.

Every western European whether from an EU country or not can live and work everywhere in Europe. No-one is going to start making it difficult for Brits to go on holiday or to work abroad. The idea that Germany will allow in all comers, except Brits is perverse.

If you really are an internationalist, then you should care about the plight of the southern Europeans. Moreover, unless you really think we should abolish all borders, then it’s necessary to accept that caring about other countries and working together with them does not require that we are ruled by them. The Japanese are not anti-Asian because they maintain their own borders and don’t want to be ruled by a union of Asian countries. An Australian can equally feel an internationalist while wishing to maintain Australian sovereignty.

The argument for the UK leaving the EU is very different from the argument for Scotland leaving the UK. The process of leaving the EU would not involve creating a new nation state.  The UK would simply revert to the norm. We’d go back to what we always were until we joined. This is no more scary than going back to the 1960s, or being a country like New Zealand.

I don’t like negative campaigning, but the difficulties involved in Scotland becoming independent are genuine. What’s more if the UK as a whole decided to leave the EU it would be even harder for Scotland to achieve independence. To imagine Scotland in the EU while the UK is outside is to imagine a distance and a gulf which few, except the most hard-line Scottish nationalists, would want to contemplate.

The SNP themselves have admitted that Brexit would not lead to them asking for another independence referendum. They have also admitted that Brexit makes the case for Scottish independence harder. The EU in fact acts as the condition for the possibility of sub nation-state nationalism. It enables the SNP to argue that life would go on more or less the same if Scotland left the UK. After all we’d all still be in the EU, governed by the same rules and regulations. People who fear Brexit would lead to a second Scottish independence referendum need to think more long term. It’s not as if the SNP will give up the goal of independence if we vote to remain. The one thing that would unite the UK in the long run is leaving the EU.

Short term I admit to having some fears about leaving the EU. There is some uncertainty. For that reason if the UK votes to remain, I might allow myself a little sigh of relief. But long term I would think we would have made the wrong decision. I oppose the EU morally. It is undemocratic and it has caused unnecessary suffering in Europe. Long term it would benefit not only the UK, but everyone else in Europe if we could revert to being sovereign nation states which simply traded with each other freely. That would help all of our prosperity.  Leaving the EU might involve a pin prick while we adjust to freedom, and self-responsibility.  But we would soon wake up from the anaesthetic and think what on earth were we so scared of.  When an operation is necessary it obviously is also worth it.  A sigh of relief at avoiding the pin prick in these circumstances would be rather childish.

Saturday 4 June 2016

Remaining in the EU is the greatest danger of all

If I was asked to pick one thing about the EU that I like it would be the fact that it allows me to live and work anywhere in the EU without too much difficulty. But like all rights it has to be reciprocal. British people cannot reasonably expect to be able to live and work in Spain unless we allow Spaniards to live and work in Britain. But why would we want to limit the right of Spaniards to come here? Why for that matter would we want to limit the right of any European to come to Britain?

At the heart of the debate about the EU is the topic of immigration. But it is being made in a way that completely misses the point. This is in part because immigration is a difficult, almost a taboo topic. Like so many issues in modern Britain we’re all scared to say what we think clearly in case we commit the unforgivable sin and get cast into outer darkness.

I have lived and worked abroad, both inside and outside of the European Union. My husband is from Russia. So that makes me someone who has benefited from immigration. I don’t think it is reasonable to be against any individual in the world coming to live in Britain. But it is perfectly reasonable to oppose all individuals in the world coming to live in Britain. There are more than seven billion people in the world. They cannot all have the right to live and work here. For this reason we have to limit the right of those who may want to come here.

Some people favour bringing down all borders and allowing everyone in the world to live and work where they please.  This would have the consequence however of effectively abolishing countries.  What after all is a country, but the people who live in it? We may think that a country is a matter of land, but this is not so. Take a look at the boundaries of Germany. It’s rather smaller than it was prior to the First World War.  Germany used to stretch all the way to modern day Lithuania. The whole Polish cost was German. It’s not German now, because the Germans were forced out. Poles and Russians took their place.

So let’s be clear. If you take a small country like Denmark and replace the population with people from elsewhere, you won’t have Denmark anymore. You’ll still have the land, but you won’t have the language or the culture or even the Danes.

Throughout the centuries Britain has defended itself against various foes. But even if we had lost, our island would have remained intact. We weren’t therefore defending our land so much as our people. If Germany had conquered Britain and supplanted our population with theirs, we wouldn’t have had Britain anymore, we’d have had Germany. Some people may think this is farfetched, but it is exactly this that Germany intended to do in Eastern Europe. If they had won the Second World War, they would have extended Germany to the Urals. There would have been no more Poland, and no more Russia, because in these places there would have been no Poles and no Russians apart perhaps from slaves.

But if we have been willing throughout the centuries to defend ourselves against those who would supplant us, then clearly we have the right to do so now.  Our army would fight against an enemy trying to take over our country. We would do everything in our power to avoid this. Yet we stand idly by while this happens gradually.

The UK’s population may reach eighty million within twenty five years. My guess is that if this happens the vast majority will live in the large cities in England. But there is free movement within the UK and anyone who lives here can choose to live anywhere. What if people began to decide that England was so full that it was preferable to move to somewhere with a bit more space, such as Scotland. If all fifteen million decided to come to Scotland our population would quadruple.  A small minority of Scots would then have surnames beginning with ‘Mac’. Few indeed would speak Scots and fewer still would speak Gaelic. It would be hard to justify having television programmes in Gaelic when it was spoken by less than fifty thousand out of a population of twenty million. The road signs would, no doubt, no longer be in Gaelic. They might no longer even be in English. Places names are apt to change when populations change massively. You won’t find Königsberg or Breslau on any maps now.

How many Scots would still wear kilts at weddings or recite Burns in January if our population benefited so much from immigration over the next quarter of a century? What would it be like to live in Scotland then? It would be rather full I imagine. But we’d be able to comfort ourselves that migration had brought with it diversity even if we’d lost some scenery. But what would have happened to all those things that we associate with Scotland today? Would they have been maintained or would they rather have been destroyed?

It’s all very well thinking immigration is wonderful when it happens to someone else, but my guess is that the average Scottish nationalist would be horrified if the fifteen million people who may come to the UK in the next twenty five years ended up in Scotland. These new Scots for one thing might be uninterested in Scottish independence. They might not even think of themselves as Scots at all. But then Scottish Nationalist support for the EU and the virtually unlimited immigration that it brings looks rather hypocritical. It’s quite easy to be in favour of open borders when we know that ours will rarely be crossed. The benefits of immigration are great so long as only England benefits. 
Freedom of movement in Europe is a good thing. Most Europeans who come to live and work in Britain will adapt and learn to speak English. If they decide to stay their children will be indistinguishable from anyone else in Britain. But there has to be a limit and migration within Europe has to be managed. If this is not the case it will have lasting consequences not only for us, but for the countries from which the migrants have come. Already parts of Eastern Europe are suffering from the fact that there are only old people left there. If enough people leave Latvia, it’s not clear that there will be a Latvia any more.

If Britain left the EU, we would be better able to decide who from the EU could come here. We have gained massively from freedom of movement within the EU. This could continue even after Brexit. It’s worth remembering that people, from non EU countries, such as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland can still live and work anywhere in the EU. But just as the rights of Bulgarians and Romanians were limited when they first joined the EU, it would be reasonable for some sort of limit to be put on the number who can come to Britain. This would benefit integration here and ease the brain drain in Eastern Europe. It would be foolish to even try to prevent immigration from Europe, but if it isn’t managed it will damage both Britain and the EU.

The main benefit of leaving the EU however is not that it would limit migration from Europe. It may give us some more control and some more choice, but I would expect something close to free movement to continue in any event. It is a condition for access to the EU single market after all. Only on the day after voting to leave would negotiations even begin. At that point everyone both in the UK and the EU who is predicting disaster would be doing their best to avoid disaster. The end point of negotiations would most likely be something close to the position of Norway. The EU would be free to pursue its path to ever closer union while the UK would have the free trade association which is all that the vast majority of us have ever wanted.  Unless you actually want political union with the other EU countries, you should clearly vote to leave. We would soon find out that we’d barely notice leaving the EU. There might be some sort of cap on the number of people able to come here from the EU. It might be made rather harder for Poles to claim benefits in the UK that British people can't get in Poland. But none of this would change things a great deal. This is because the British economy benefits from EU migrants and the reason immigration is a political issue in the UK is anyway not because of people coming here from the EU. But given that leaving the EU will not greatly change migration from Europe, what point does it have? The reason is quite simple. Leaving the EU would massively help our ability to control migration from outside the EU.

It is already in theory very hard indeed for someone from outside the EU to come to Britain legally. My husband has had to jump through all sorts of difficult hoops in order to get a passport. But practically speaking, anyone from anywhere who arrives in Britain whether legally or illegally cannot be deported. We our constrained by the rules of the European Union into letting an indefinite number of people who arrive on our shores to remain.  

People who oppose leaving the EU talk about all sorts of scary things that would happen if we leave. But remaining in the EU guarantees that the population of our country continues to grow to such an extent that we would need another fifteen Birminghams. There is nothing we can do to stop this if we remain in the EU. This scares me far more than anything else that might happen. Britain will change irreversibly in the coming decades if we choose to stay in the EU and we will be powerless to do anything about it. Only by leaving the EU and thereby making UK law supreme rather than subordinate to EU law, will we regain the power to decide who can live here. Attempts to limit immigration without these powers are an exercise in futility.  

We must make everyone in Britain welcome no matter where they have come from. But it is in all of our interests that long term the character of our country continues. This is as much the case if my parents arrived here recently or have been here as long as it is possible to trace. Limited immigration benefits Britain and we should not close our doors to anyone. But unlimited immigration is an existential threat to our country. Leaving the EU is the only way we can regain the means to defend ourselves and our border.