I’ve tried to write several versions of this post and failed. The worst attempt was yesterday when I literally fell asleep while typing. An essay so dull that it sends even the writer to sleep could perhaps be weaponised and used for evil, so I’ll spare you that version. The apple keyboard didn’t even do an amusing autorepeat as my stumpy fingers sat semi-lifeless on the keys while I sat hunched over the laptop making snoring sounds and drooling slightly, so I can’t even present an amusing string of garble that I ’typed’ in my sleep.
Why is the Brexit so dull? It is hard to say. In many ways it is in parallel with the Scottish Referendum and that vote was gloriously exciting despite my overall neutrality. At its heart is a question of British and English national identity, a power play by the right-wing of the Conservative Party and a cloud of issues around economics and human rights. That should be heady cocktail of political intrigue but rather like Batman versus Superman, all the exciting goodies crammed together just doesn’t sound very appealing. I sort of feel I should go and watch it but somehow never get around to it.
What is at stake:
- Britain’s membership of the European Union…
- Hence the economic benefits (if there any) of membership…
- And the associated legal and regulatory frameworks…
- Which include social legislation and protection of workers rights.
It is superficially very easy to take sides. The forces who want to leave are dominated by (but are not exclusively) a classic toxic mix of the worst bits of conservatism – plutocratic fat cats who feel that the EU dilutes their influence conjoined with (or identical to) English nationalist with a side-serving of far-right crypto-fascist nationalists. For those who have been following the multiple strands of this blog it is sufficient to point out that Vox Day is very much in favor of the Brexit.
On the other hand:
- Brexit sounds like a breakfast cereal
- Picking one side of an issue just because of how toxically obnoxious the other side is, really is a case of the genetic fallacy
- The issues at stake maybe all overstated
The economic benefits are unclear. There are various claims by non-omnispecious people but at their heart is the issue of counterfactuals. How much would Britain’s economy have grown IF it hadn’t been part of the EU (hard to say). How much will Britain’s economy grow if it isn’t part of the European Union (also hard to say)? As somebody on the left, I’m naturally skeptical of claims of vague economic benefits, particularly during a sustained period of rising inequality where said benefits often seem to land with the most wealthy. At times watching Conservative PM David Cameron squabble with hopes-to-be Conservative PM Boris Johnson it can look like it is primarily a discussion over which is the best way of keeping rich English people rich. I’m guessing that on balance they might be a tad richer in real terms *in* the EU but have more personal power and be relatively richer outside of the EU. There doesn’t seem to be a clear option of ‘they get substantially poorer and look miserable while everybody else has a party’.
Two other issues sway me towards scepticism of the stay-in-the-EU camp.
Firstly the EU is a bit crap, governmentaly, as a decision making body and as an entity that actually fosters unity. It is not a terribly democratic organization and arguably its existence, distance and tendency to fall into regional factionalism actually helps promote more toxic elements of ethnic nationalism. That does not mean there are no good aspects but there is no positive piece of social legislation from the EU that would be impossible to win electorally in the UK without the EU (although it might take longer and face various setbacks).
Secondly nasty toxic rightwing nationalists can be right for the wrong reasons. This is where the genetic fallacy does come into play. The obvious example is European Monetary Union. While there were important sceptical voices with rational arguments against it (e.g. Paul Krugman again), the importance of the eurosceptic right in British politics was a key element of it never really being an option for the UK. The UK avoided adopting the Euro and as a consequence was spared the additional fall out of the Eurozone crisis despite the fact that much of the economic turbulence of the Global Financial Crisis originated in the UK. Of course this does not mean that the nasty toxic rightwing nationalists are right – it just means they are so consistently wrong that just because THEY think something will benefit them doesn’t mean that it actually will. Their connection with reality is tenuous at best and they are more than capable of deceiving themselves into acting against their own interest (if only they would do so reliably then they would be a solved problem).
On the other other hand…
I’m currently a long way away. The issues on the ground may look and feel quite different.
The *potential* for the European Union to be a democratic, effective and positive source of social good is enormous. By that measure being in is probably better than being out – although maybe it will find it easier to reach that point without having to deal with British Conservatives.
The left and the Labour Party has had a long evolution in its views on Europe – from scepticism in the early eighties to enthusiasm in the nineties. The British left is a lot more like the European left than the British right is to the European right. The strain of extreme nationalism on the right in all of Europe creates an inherent disunity that tends to favour either the left or the center right. The UK being in Europe bolsters the forces of the left in Europe whereas the UK Conservatives create divisions among the right.
So that’s the end of the essay. I didn’t fall asleep and I didn’t reach a firm conclusion and it turns out I’m not registered to vote anyway. Good luck Britain and all who sail upon them! 🙂