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Well, there’s only one day left to go before the dread EU Referendum is upon us Brits, and we decide once and for all whether we want to remain a part of it or not. Some of us will have already done postal votes and for them, the decision has already been made. Others will have already voted at the tradtional polling stations. For me, even with only a few hours to go before the close of polls… well, that’s another story.

To begin with I was definitely on the Leave side, and it’s quite surprising how much of this had to do with the one thing most secularists would be mortally afraid of if you mixed it with politics: my Christian faith. There are actually a few more conservative Christian types who actually think our membership of the EU contravenes the will of God, that when God divided the nations at Babel and later set their borders, this was somehow a good thing in order to prevent some of the worse abuses of power that sinful human nature could produce. This kind of argument I will best leave to one of my former pastors to make- see [1]. On top of this, there were even arguments to the effect that since the Queen had made in her Coronation Oath to do various things including upholding the Christian faith and so on, this was actually a covanent with God and the secularizing tendencies of pan-European institutions were somehow about us breaking that covenant. Even one book I read contained an alleged prophecy stating that we should come out of Europe because it would align itself with the Antichrist before The End. I kid you not.

Now, of course, when I looked into it, there seemed to be plenty of good secular reasoning to back this up. When you looked at, say, the Greek crisis and what the EU has forced (against the declared democratic will of the people) upon it in terms of austerity, to keep the Euro alive, we get one example of why it seems that this kind of power structure is no good- it undermines democracy and national sovereignty. How many referenda have we also had in the past on the EU constitution or other treaty changes, in various countries, where the EU basically said “Wrong! Do it again! Let’s hear the right answer!” And then there’s TTIP- the pending trade deal that might allow corporations to sue governments and force the privatization of the NHS. Not to mention the litany of regulatory blunders as part of things like the Common Fisheries Policy which, in setting quotas to conserve fish stocks, only forced fishermen to throw back perfectly good, and perfectly dead, catches of fish back into the sea. Or the various problems which the Common Agricultural Policy, farm subsidies &c. might likewise cause. (You hear little of butter mountains and wine lakes these days, however. Though that make a good idea for a short story- Jenny Everywhere in Surplusland, maybe?)

All this led to some pretty unpleasant conclusions- like voting for and supporting parties I was somewhat uncomfortable with, i.e. UKIP. The more I heard about it and the actuons of some of its members (everything from bigoted remarks to their voting records for MEPs inside the EU, which seemed counter-productive), the more I grew concerned, but, as I knew the candidate for our area personally, I thought maybe they’re not all that bad, and frankly, some of their manifesto ideas seemed to make sense at the time. Sadly, of course, their attitude to climate chainge (unrelenting skepticism) was not one of them, their economic ideas are unflinchingly neoliberal and this conflicted with some of my inner leftie tendencies which still remained after all this time.

Of course not all my Christian friends were in favour of UKIP and leaving the EU. Most of these being the leftty activisit types whom I knew through SPEAK or those who knew them, who probably had a very different idea of what Christianity was to some of my church friends- much more inclied towards social justice issues and less upon (where it infringed on worldly politics over evangelism at all) personal moral issues and would be religious liberty. Many of these people were astounded I’d even want to consider, at least, supporting UKIP. No matter how much I’d try to say they weren’t that bad really, I had to wonder.

Of course now I left the church (one of whose members is the local UKIP candidate), and with spending more time amongst those of a more radical leftist bent, I had reason to want to reconsider my views on the matter.

Now, when all that’s said and done, there are several things that really get me about this referendum business.

First of all, as has been pointed out in the mainstream media quite constantly, there have been claims of scaremongering from both sides. Typically one side will come out with some claim, and the other side will try and rubbish it or try to point out flaws. The Leave campign seem to provide some of the more egregious examples, like the alleged money we supposedly spend on the EU which when things like the rebate is taken into account and the fact we get some back anyway, and any savings we make from it form a minuscule part of government spending- we will not have all that much more to spend on the NHS. That even assuming the offset in economic losses will make it meaningless anyway.

Worst of all is all is the way in which the immigration issue has been so much of a big deal. The Leave side have been hinting, for example, that Turkey might join the EU and bring millions more immigrants to th UK, using the refugee crisis as leverage (even in spite of the fact that we are not inside the Schengen area and those trying to climb on lorries desparate to reach the UK are hardly going to be deterred by Brexit). Yes, it is true that there is ultimaely so much space to go around, so many houses, so many hospital beds. Perhaps free movement of labour does seek to drive down wages and conditions as immigrants might have a lower level of demands in terms of wages (which are naturally higher than in their home country anyway). But at the same time, immigrants can also pay taxes, start businesses, possibly fill the jobs British people would seek to avoid anyway, and actually be of benefit to our eeconomy instead of a burden. How much of the pressure on our poblic services is not in fact down to austerity? How much of the housing crisis is really down to bad policy or even markets? How much of the business with jobs is down to neoliberal notions of shareholder value trumps everything? Frankly, this is more about scapegoating those less fortunate than us instead of blaming the real people responsible- the rich and powerful. Exploiting xenophobia and Islamophobia.

Then again hte Remain camp isn’t so much better- even suggesting the security of Europe might be threatened if we left, that the economy would take a nosedive- admittedly, hough many economists back that one up. Typical of the tit-for-tat mentality in the debates, the Leave campaign immediately hit back and rubbished these claims, reckoning, for example suggesting that the economists who make such predctions also failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. And the business interests who favour Europe? They said the same thing about is joining the Euro, didn’t they? And as history has proven, maybe our not joining it turned out not to be such a bad idea after all.

There is also the suggestion that Brexit is all about right-wing values and hate, which it should not be- it is not about personalities, who our awkwards bedfelows might be, but on the issues. Just like I could not care less about all the celebrities and political dinosaurs the campaigns wheel out (why should we care so much partiucularly about what celebritiess have to say any more than anyone else?) nor do I care if Farage, Boris and their ilk are campaigning for Leave. After all, I don’t like Cameron, Osborne or those dinosaurs as Blair (the man who brought us into Iraq), or all the heads of corporations who want us to stay in, but they are all supporting Remain.

One thing I am very skeptical of is the claim that the EU has ben instrumental in securing peace in Europe. Never mind that the institutions which would later develop into the EU were mostly a Western affair, and for the four and a bit decades after WW2 the biggest possible threat to peace was the tension between capitalist Weat and “communist” East, dominated by Russia/the USSR which covered a good chunk of eastern Europe and is satellite states a good chunk more? That, although the EU now encompasses much of Eastern Europe and some parts of the former USSR, there are yet more tensions between it (and the West in general) and Russia, which is not part of the EU? What about Ukraine? What about the former Yougoslavia 20 years ago? So what good has the EU done for peace? Can anybody really tell me if the last 70 years since WW2 has not had a resumption of major conflict on the level of the two world wars, has not been in spite of, rather than because of the EU? I would welcome suggestions.

So, what of the Left case for “Brexit”, sometimes referred to as “Lexit”? Wasn’t the Left traditionally Euroskeptic back in the ’70s? Well, we’ve seen sadly little of it. Despite the fact that there are a few trade unions (RMT?) supporting it, a few within Labour (not Jeremy Corbyn however, who seems to have gone over from his original euroskepticism to support the normal party line). There are of course a few on the fringes- George Galloway of Respect, the Socialist Labour Party (something to do with Arthur Scargill methinks) and the like. The Morning Star newspaper seems to have carried plenty of columns arguing a left case for leaving the EU. But we see little of this in the mainstream media- it’s all Cameron and Osborne on one side and Gove an Boris Johnson on the other. I mean, even UKIP has been complaining that Farage has been sidelined in the debates, but he gets more prominence than any on the left arguing for Brexit. The fact is that, for all the worker’s rights, environmental protections (you know, like those fishing quotas) and whatnot that came from the EU,  it still a neoliberal-oriented organization and no-one on the left who wants to remain in the EU argues for it without hoping for substanitial reforms. The only worry is that with a Tory government in power- and especially if Cameron has to step down- a lot of these may be eroded further. We worry about TTIP, but if we make the much-vaunted trade deals on our own, how do we know they won’t be as bad as if not worse than what we might get out of TTIP- which we cannot influence if we leave, along with our comrades across the Channel. But to suggest the EU is internationalist- well, it actually is a regional trading bloc at odds with some other parts of the world, and actually discriminates against those outside the EU with regards to things like free movement rights. Much hope for world socialism there? Doubt it.

Nevertheless, I came across a film which makes the case for “Lexit”, which might be worth a watch. [2]

And another article (shared through a friend) which suggested that we’re basically screwed either way. [3]

So, I’m out to vote. If you are eligible to vote (and are not an anarchist who doesn’t beleive in voting in principle), I encourage you to do so if you have not already. I doubt I can influence anyone at this stage with an article like this, and frankly don’t want to. I barely know myself. But there you have it. As ever, confused.

 

[1] http://riversofwater22.blogspot.co.uk/2016/06/an-open-door.html?spref=fb

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq72f81kkM4

[3] http://www.thecanary.co/2016/06/21/the-eu-referendum-is-one-of-the-cruellest-tricks-every-played-on-the-british-public/

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Last night I began with what must seem like a somewhat desperate plea for the Scots to think of the rest of the UK when voting in the referendum today. I promised I would go into more detail about why I believe this is important. As I have left it too late in the day to affect the polls, which have now closed, and given that realistically an obscure blog with a handful of readers, written by an Englishman, is going to do much to change the outcome of the vote anyway, I wonder if it is worth it. But, a promise ought to be honoured; given my poor track record in previous years of posting what I wanted to post, this most definitely needs to change.

I am far from an expert on the situation and this is not an academic blog, rather meant for personal observations on life, the universe and everything so what follows here is only my understanding based on what I have picked up on the news. So, without further ado:

 

1. The economic uncertainty.

The Yes campaign of course claim they will be able to continue to use the pound in a formal currency union with the Bank of England continuing to be lender of last resort, etc., but as pointed out that will require the approval of the continuing UK. And given the whole debacle with the Eurozone crisis of the past few years, naturally there is some reluctance to enter into that. And given some reports that some of the alleged mainstays like oil reserves, access to ready markets in the EU if Scotland is denied immediate membership and so on (though whether a free trade agreement, like I’d hope for an exiting UK, could at least be negotiated I don’t know) and the fact of probable lack of investment due to all the uncertainty, will Scotland’s economy really be in the right shape to not drag us down?

Of course there is always the possibility that EU membership for an independent Scotland would mean them joining the Euro, and if not, they could use the pound anyway, as Salmond forced Darling to concede in the debates. Or even use the US dollar, or probably even the Turkish Lira or Bitcoin or come to that. There are threats that without the currency union, Scotland might not agree to take its share of the UK’s current national debt, which will further place a burden on the much smaller rump-UK tax base. I doubt we down here would care much for that.

Of course, all the tax revenue that comes from Scotland, and the probably dwindling oil revenue, cannot be passed to the rest of the UK, which is for Scots certainly a good thing, and probably seeing so much of that money going to further enrich the London elite won’t make us in poor old North-East England cry. But, a less than open border might well affect trade too, especially for those businesses close to it.

And all this uncertainty is probably going to deter investment even further, if we find out by tomorrow Scotland has voted Yes.

2. The political spectrum.

This BBC article suggests that without Scotland in the 2010 elections, the Tories would have a majority in the House of Commons, and would not even need to form a coalition in order to force through so many of the unpopular policies the Yes campaign claims to want rid of in Scotland (some of which won’t even affect Scotland anyway, like NHS privatization)

Or take a look at the election map from Wikipedia. Note that in England there are a few chunks of red in a sea of blue. Much more red and yellow in Scotland than the measly little bit of blue you can see. Also note where those chunks of red are-no doubt the old industrial heartlands that have been eroding over the years, and certainly hate the Tories every bit as much as your typical Scot. Yet none of us ae able to become independent.

Of course it is hardly like Labour has had a much better track record with popular policy decisions, and the Lib-Dems are in fact in coalition with the Tories which says enough. But certainly what we will see (if whoever it was that said that it might refocus the efforts of the English left-wing to appeal more strongly to English concerns and head off the current shift to the right) a shift in the near-term political spectrum of Britain which could mean the Tories are more likely to dominate, than it would otherwise have been. Not being firmly either on the left or right, and even being kind of a reluctant UKIP voter (not that I like all their policies and ideas, least of all on climate change, and am in two minds about others- simply on the EU question and one or two of their more social-conservative, if not economic-conservative viewpoints), this might not seem like a bad thing you might think, but I think a change in the corridors of power now and then might be good even if they all are as bad as each other in the long run.

3. Trident.

Of course, many English people I know don’t really want the questionable use of funds to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent we cannot under normal circumstances use and probably would never need to, let alone have terrible destructive potential if we did. But if Scotland becomes independent, then eventually we Sassenachs are probably going to have to go to all the trouble and expense of relocating the base of operations for it. I’d certainly not want to see it in my back yard either, thanks.

4. Effect on the North East of England?

There have been fears, right since suggestions the SNP might lower corporation tax might mean investment that would have gone to my area would instead go to Scotland. Already we have seen, for example in my hometown, a certain major business locating an office in Scotland it might have here. But with the economic uncertainty mentioned above, this might be a bit of a non-starter.  There have also been fears that a new international border might cause problems for businesses and workers on either side of the border.

There are, also on the other hand, moves by local authorities in the region to work more closely with Scotland to forge new links which might be in our economic interest, then perhaps independence might not be such a bad thing.

5. Good old Auntie?

Yes, there are many people who hate the BBC as biased, on both sides of both the border and the political spectrum. Or they hate the way it handled the whole Jimmy Saville thing, or the payouts to its executives, or the fact its current funding model is essentially a TV tax in all but name, irrespective of whether you want to watch the Beeb. But if plans to split off BBC Scotland to form a new Scottish Broadcasting Service, what does this mean for the funding of what is left? If the SBS does exchange programming, will it be forced to stump up the cost (and vice versa) commercially, and will that cover the shortfall?

6. But what about a No vote?

I have heard from certain people I’ve been talking to that as part of a sweetener to tempt undecided Scots to vote “No”, then even more funding could be diverted to Scotland than is currently delivered by the Barnett Formula. I certainly don’t think that will be too popular in the rest of the UK, if taxpayers have to foot the bill. And what of “devo max” type sweeteners, in the absence of a truly federal UK? Hardly think this is fair either but then, perhaps we might get stronger calls for an English Parliament, stronger powers for the Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies (unless reunification looks more promising after all), and a reduced Westminster in other words, a truly federal UK? I’d like to hope so, but it remains to be seen.

I leave you with two BBC articles on the issue, which probably will explain it much better than I can. Just to annoy all the anti-Beebists (as distinct from the Auntie Beebists 😉 )

I also invite comments, ideas, constructive criticism and especially corrections.

…and Wales, and Northern Ireland… but including them in the title wouldn’t have been as funny. No, I am not meaning to be insulting your great nation at all, simply to consider a side of the issue only a few people have bothered to discuss: that of independence, or lack of it, on the rest of the UK.

It has long bothered me that whilst I had thought he Union was a two-way partnership, that only Scots get to decide who breaks it. Apparently (and I am sadly too lazy to read the details, but hopefully will tomorrow) the Act of Union has nothing in it to override what seems to be the overriding principle of self-determination, that Scots get to decide how they are governed (though the rest of us don’t get decide not to be voted by Scots- but given the most obvious recent example of that was Gordon Brown, maybe that’s not so bad a thing). It is certainly true that the Scots Parliament of old was led into union by some conniving and possible arm-twisting (their economy having collapsed following failed colonial adventures in Panama) but it’s hardly like the government of England was anything like what we’d consider a democracy today, with universal suffrage to elect an MP to represent you absent let alone referenda. Now Scots get democracy to decide the fate of the Union, but the English do not, even though, as I will point out, it will affect us in several key areas.

But on the plus side, ignoring the democratic deficit south of the border, northwards we see quite the opposite picture: a predicted 80% turnout, lots of lively debate, people getting engaged in the issues which rarely happens with day-to-day national, local or international politics. More controversially, 16-17 year olds are allowed to vote, which some say might be too young, but it is at least the age when people start to develop the true ability to make their own independent decisions, not simply those they have learned from their elders (thanks to some old Robert Winston documentary for that half-remembered tidbit) and, after all, it’s a potentially irreversible decision which will affect the young.

The fact is that what Scots are voting on will affect both Scotland and the rest of the UK. From the currency union issue, to Trident, to investment here in the north of England (which might be affected by proposed cuts to corporation tax in Scotland, though this may be of little effect in the sea of other economic troubles Scots may face), to the political balance in Westminster. Even good old Auntie Beeb loos set to be affected, with the creation of a separate Scottish Broadcasting Service out of the existing BBC Scotland, no to mention all those licence fees the BBC can’t live off anymore. And the alternative, no plus “devo max” might mean Scots are even more disproportionately funded well by now than the rest of us- not only unfair, but who picks up the tab?

And for all the Yes campaign’s going on about Scotland being free of the distant, Tory-led government in Westminster pushing NHS privatisation, the bedroom tax and a whole host of other policies. Guess what- neither do we. Look at any electoral map, and you’ll find that there are plenty of non-Tory seats in many areas of the North of England, which is also neglected by the powers that be in London in favour of the capital’s wealthy and powerful interests. Many of us don’t want Trident any more than you do. But we don’t get to be separate from all this- yes, we had the regional assembly thing but that had few powers, and it got rejected.

I aim to elaborate on this tomorrow when I’m less tired. And maybe mention the odd possible positive for us south of the border too. But time is short, and I wonder who will read this or be affected by it before they go to the polls tomorrow. Indeed, postal voters will have cast their ballots already. But if any Scot is reading this, remember: it affects both you and us, and please consider this when you do vote. I won’t tell you how, as that is the nature of democracy which I believe pretty strongly in (not in the same way I hope to believe in God, as democracy is not infallible). Indeed, as I said, I am excited that so much lively political activity is indeed taking place. I hope it all works out for the best.