The only thing that matters on the EU question

Michael Gove announced this weekend that he would campaign to leave the EU. To accompany this announcement, he wrote a 1,500 word article giving his reasons for his decisions. Whatever you think of Michael Gove, his piece is very well written. In two paragraphs he distills the key reason why I think most people should vote to leave. Gove writes:

My starting point is simple. I believe that the decisions which govern all our lives, the laws we must all obey and the taxes we must all pay should be decided by people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change. If power is to be used wisely, if we are to avoid corruption and complacency in high office, then the public must have the right to change laws and Governments at election time. 

But our membership of the European Union prevents us being able to change huge swathes of law and stops us being able to choose who makes critical decisions which affect all our lives. Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out. We can take out our anger on elected representatives in Westminster but whoever is in Government in London cannot remove or reduce VAT, cannot support a steel plant through troubled times, cannot build the houses we need where they’re needed and cannot deport all the individuals who shouldn’t be in this country. I believe that needs to change. And I believe that both the lessons of our past and the shape of the future make the case for change compelling.

This is the key reason why I will be voting to leave, and I think whatever the other arguments bandied about are – for or against – the whole referendum should boil down to this key issue. Do you want to be able to change the way our country is run through democratic means, or are you happy to continue to give up those means because they are outweighed by the benefits of remaining in the EU?

 

Is “reforming the EU from within” realistic?

Today David Cameron announced – to the surprise of no one – that the EU Referendum will be held on 23rd June. He further stunned the world by announcing he would be campaigning to remain in the EU. This followed months of painstaking negotiations over some trifling ‘reforms’ he had cobbled together. This was concluded last night after a two day summit of EU leaders. The result seems to have been that Cameron can go away and say he has secured a ‘special status’ for the UK, while all the other EU leaders laugh behind his back and go home to tell their voters that nothing of import has changed.

So that’s where we are now. No one who is campaigning to remain – including Labour, the Green Party and the Lib Dems – actually say they are happy with the current set-up of the EU. ‘Reform from within’ seems to be the mantra. But given the tortuous mess that were David Cameron’s attempts to achieve his “thin gruel” reforms (as Jacob Rees-Mogg called them), what possible hope do the likes of Labour have for achieving a single reform they want going forward? They don’t have a cat in hell’s chance.

If we vote to remain on 23rd June, the EU will consider the matter settled and push on in the same direction they have been travelling for the last 40 years – towards greater and greater integration. I don’t know how anyone could vote for that.

EU referendum purely about internal Conservative Party politics

A poll published by Comres today had 58% of respondants answering ‘yes’ to the EU referendum question. This is before Cameron has ‘renegotiated’ anything. The result already looks like a foregone conclusion.

Cameron’s strategy has been clear from the start. Step 1. Pretend you are ‘fed up with the EU’ and want change or you’ll back a ‘no’ vote. Step 2. Come up with some piffling ‘reforms’ that will do nothing to address the concerns people have, but strenuously argue they do. Step 3. Get some politicians from other EU nations to pretend the negotiations have been tough and they are grudgingly accepting Cameron’s changes. Step 4. Pretend you have secured everything you wanted and begin the yes campaign. It’s simple, but it will probably work. (This is a firm prediction from me. My general election predictions were dreadful, so hopefully I’ll be wrong again.)

This is not Cameron’s problem though, and it’s not what the referendum is really about. It’s really about internal politics within Cameron’s own party. His problem at the moment is all his Eurosceptic colleagues are perfectly aware of his fake negotiations and they are probably not going to stand for it. Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan calls out Cameron today in a column in the Telegraph, and up to 50 Tory MPs have already formed a ‘Conservatives for Britain’ campaign group to argue for nothing less than full sovereignty for Britain, something Cameron has no intention of trying to achieve (and almost certainly couldn’t even if he wanted to).

There are alos a number of avowed Eurosceptics in Cameron’s cabinet like Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove. Cameron at first tried to enforce discipline on his Cabinet by saying they would need to campaign for a yes vote or resign, but this tactic lasted less than a day, and he now seems to have u-turned. In the 1975 referendum, cabinet members like Tony Benn were allowed to camapign to leave the common market without resigning, but Cameron has made this such a personal mission with his hyping up of his renegotiation strategy, I can’t see how cabinet members could play active roles in any no campaign without resigning.

Cameron decided to push through with this referendum over two years ago to shut up his backbenchers. Now he actually has to deliver it though, but his aims are a million miles away from those of a lot of his Parliamentary colleagues. Cameron seems to me to be as pro-EU are anyone in the last Labour Government. The referendum is supposed to settle the question of Britain in the EU. No chance! If the yes campaign is fought dishonestly (as it will be), I would think a lot of Conservative will not forget it.

I’m a bit young to remember the Tory Party tearing itself apart over Maastrict in the early 90s, but hopefully the second time around will be just as fun to watch!

Wading through the fog of the Scottish referendum debate

I can’t claim to have a particularly strong view either way over Scottish independence. If I lived in Scotland, I’d probably vote yes, and then pray the SNP saw sense before independence actually became official. I feel for those in Scotland who remain undecided though. They are being bombarded with bullshit from all angles. It’s clear virtually all of the media and political class are desperate for a No vote, and are coming up with ever more apocalyptic arguments to try and persuade Scots of the consequences of a Yes vote. Recent polling suggests that if anything, their efforts have resulted in a slight tightening of the polls, so they may be as well to just shut up. As for the Yes side, it seems obvious, they are not actually prepared for what comes next if Scotland does vote Yes, and some of their stated positions particularly their desire to keep the pound in an independent Scotland would worry me if I lived north of the border. 

In this febrile atmosphere then, it’s very difficult to get objective information about the consequences of Scottish independence. On the No side we just hear blatant scaremongering, and from the Yes side quite vague promises about what an independent Scotland would look like. With that in mind, here are a few links I have found interesting in recent weeks mainly focusing on economic aspects of Scottish Independence. I post these mainly because I judge the sources to be objective in the sense that they don’t have any skin in the game, although they are obviously not value-free.

First, this post from the Southampton University politics blog written by someone familiar with independence referendums in Quebec, Canada:

What can the 1995 Quebec referendum tell us about the Scottish referendum?

This recent post by Australian economist Bill Mitchell explains why – given the SNP’s plan for the currency – he would vote No if he were a Scot:

I would be voting NO in Scotland but with a lot of anger

Another economist Paul Krugman gives his own view in a column in the New York Times earlier this week:

Scots, What the Heck?

And finally, Neil Wilson has written a series of posts on his 3Spoken blog trying to dispel some of the (what he calls) myths of the Scottish Independence debate:

How to buy imports?

The currency board

The national debt