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60 Years Undone? Europeans Vote for Independence

The June 2009 European Parliamentary Election results saw the largest swing towards member state independence in the history of the European Union.

Robin Scott, explored the possible consequences of this historic result.

The EU results have produced that empty-chested ‘my team just lost in a semi-final shootout’ feeling the morning after the least hoped for result occurred. I’m talking, of course, about the European elections, and the far right lean we all thought possible, but hoped would not have happened. It happened.

In Scotland, the SNP (Scottish National Party) won the popular vote for the first ever time, beating Labour by over 9%. In the rest of Britain, the BNP (British National Party) gained its first ever two seats, while UKIP (the UK Independence Party) scored a hugely unexpected 17% of the total vote. These figures are worrying  for the clues embedded in these party names: National; Independence.

These ideas suggest a public following a path well trodden, which was earlier followed in the post-Depression 1930s. This was a time of severe economic crisis which saw many countries pushed to extreme ends of the political spectrum, most notably, in Europe, a move to the far right: to nationalism. Let’s not forget where that ended, with the biggest pile of bodies the world has ever seen, AKA World War II.

The aftermath of the Second World War led ultimately to the foundation of the European Union – though its roots can be traced further back – the need for unity within Europe during the shell-shocked state Europe found itself in following 1945 had become far more evident.

The European Union is also based, in part, upon a solid German model known as subsidiarity. Without digressing into a discussion about constitutional law, simply put, the principle of subsidiarity inherent in the European Constitution means that decisions, at European level, should be taken at the most appropriate (lowest) level, closest to the matters at hand. In practice this means the EU will not interfere where a national Government can run it’s own affairs. It also follows that a National Government should, in theory, allow local Government to take its own decisions.

When this idea is really engaged with, any move for independence seems an extreme reaction: Europe is based upon the right for self-determination of its member states, except, generally speaking, where their actions are against the European Convention on Human Rights, or where the decision the Government is taking is found otherwise to be against the European Constitution, unless the decision is adjudged in the National Interest.

These are complex ideas, it is true, but none who support staying in Europe are expressing them well to voters. If they were, then surely a move for independence would not be happening. Unless, as the major fear must be, the issues most people are voting on are less about self-governance, and more about protectionism: people are voting against freedom of workers within Europe.

This is not the first vote since the European Union enlarged to include many old ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries, granting their citizens rights and freedoms to move within Europe and work where their skills are required, however, the first vote was only a month after this occurred. In the five years since that vote, we’ve seen the first influx of these workers into Western European countries. Importantly, latterly, we’ve also seen the economy fall to pieces.

With rising unemployment, who are the first people to be singled out? Immigrant workers.

The economy looks like continuing the worst downward spiral since the Second World War – perhaps that is the major underlying reason for the biggest European right-wing swing in this period?

During these troubled times, it is interesting to watch the news media’s current favourite source of stories: Twitter. Anti-BNP sentiment prevails. If ‘Twitter Trends’ were ballot boxes, we’d have a fairly liberal Europe right now. They aren’t. Maybe this is why we should, as a media, stop looking to Twitter as a reflection of society. Educated, technologised, Western liberals are on Twitter; it is not they who are working at the 2009 equivalent of the coal face: no, those Yorkshiremen aren’t Twittering, they are voting BNP, at least 1 out of every 10 of them just did.

For the more moderate within society, there is a more moderate option. UKIP won 13 European seats – more than all but one of the UK political parties. Whatever the public opinion about these parties, the message is the same: “we want to rule ourselves; we want to stop up our borders. Isolation. Nationalism. Independence”.

Xenophobia? Racism? Fascism?

These are precisely the views that the formation of the European Union was designed to prevent. The move towards absolute freedom seen as the perfect foil for the over-zealous nationalism which had brought the continent – bloodied and battered – to its knees.

Europe needs strength from its centrist parties, if it is to prevent the economy from undoing the past 60 years of civilisation.

About Robin Scott

Robin Scott
Robin Scott is co-founder and publisher of The Global Herald.

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8 comments

  1. This editorial makes the assumption of ‘tarring everyone with the same brush ‘ as the last sentence of the third paragraph clearly shows –

    ‘These figures are worrying for the clues embedded in these party names: National; Independence.’

    That paragraph equates the Scottish National Party (SNP) with the British National Party (BNP) – which is like comparing chalk and cheese. The author obviously hasn’t got a clue about the political scene here in Scotland otherwise he wouldn’t have referred to the SNP in the context that he did.

    For the record the SNP favours participation of Scotland as a sovereign nation at international level, is pro-immigration, and advocates ‘civic nationalism’.

    • Editor

      Michael, unfortunately, though my choice of words may well have been misguided, you are the one who has made an assumption here.

      I live in Edinburgh: I know what the SNP stands for.

      We are dealing, however, with the position within Europe, in the European elections, the rights of Scotland as a sovereign nation are not, or should not be, at the forefront of the mind in a Euro election: rather, the European position taken.

      What is clear from the elections is what I (should have been) hinting at: the BNP vote seems to be an “anti-immigration” vote; The UKIP vote was treated as some kind of referendum on EU participation; and the SNP vote seemed to be a referendum on Westminster rule (in the wake of the expenses scandals and general mis-management of the economy which has put us into the current financial predicament).

      Simply put, people were voting for THE WRONG REASONS – treating Euro elections as some kind of forum for ‘getting their voices heard’ the problem being that the net result of such a vote could ultimately be the failure of the European Union which – and I hope this DID come across – would be a huge shame, and a great mistake. In my view.

      So ok, for the purposes of my article, I have glossed over many intricacies, because of the danger of knee-jerking out of Europe, which is the greatest possible harm. Also the racism and nationalism is frightening, whichever form it may take, we must try to look past local agenda where possible to develop a solution which transcends borders.

      Ergo: we must look to Europe.

  2. I think you are absolutely right when you say that these elections demonstrate that people want to withdraw in favour of small-scale national governance that they previously enjoyed. This regression typically occurs in times of hardship.

    As you correctly pointed out, this seems like a great solution but the past is hardly a panacea of peace and cooperation which the era of nationalism (the 20th century) clearly showed.

    I would say that to a large extent people are confused, we had been told that free marketism would solve all society’s ills and whatever problem that presented itself the solution was to plug the free market with ever greater vigour. The formation of the European Union even demonstrates this as the majority of the reforms adopted since its inception have been those designed to facilitate greater freedom for workers, goods, money etc. It was institution corrupted, to a great extent, by the ideology de jour.

    Since the feral capitalism ideology has now been thoroughly discredited (something I could have told everyone ages ago) it leaves no new ideology in its wake. Two things flow from this, the first is a total lack of respect for the mainstream parties, they all propose what is, in essence, the same approach to all problems, dithering and saying what they think sounds good in order to win elections. The second result is great confusion about what to do next, there is nowhere for people to turn. This perhaps explains why, although the share of the vote for the fringe parties increased, it was an increase that took place all across the board.

    The good news is that the ground is wide open for new suggestions about how to organise society, nice if you are interested in that sort of thing. Everybody knows that a return to the past and Scargill style socialism will never provide an appropriate solution to today’s problems, nor will more of the same from the mainstream political parties.

    If the European Union wants to survive it has to be followed to its logical conclusion. Economic progress cannot take place without corresponding social progress. The citizens of Britain are not going to tolerate a huge influx of EU workers when they then rely on British social security and public services. The EU must develop into a fully federal state with parallel social advancement, EU-wide social security, policing, everything but with a federal slant. The EU will not continue for much longer as it is today and there are already signs that it is sliding into irrelevance (the voter turnout demonstrates this).

    We will not, in the foreseeable future, be returning to nation states and national governments, international cooperation is already so extreme that such a radical move is totally unforeseeable. The only hope is that we push on with the European project towards full integration. People would start voting in European Parliamentary elections if this were the case!

    • Editor

      Ari, your response is too measured for a quick reply, however, what you say about the European Union being ‘corrupted be the issues de jeur’ is precisely the problem here; as last week’s vote demonstrates well – people cannot separate the current national political climate from that of Europe.

      This is the problem: few people fully understand what the EU is; nor what it should be; nor what it could be. Few understand the intricacies involved in the EU constitution, including, even, consitiutional lawyers across Europe, who have disagreed since it’s inception. The public, therefore, given their understandable lack of knowledge, are poorly armed when it comes to electing representatives to a forum they do not fully understand. And how can they? Who is talking about Europe?

      But this does not mean that, at it’s root, there is not the kernal of a brilliant idea; an ideal which should be striven for: a unified European Government which protects its citizens against the tyranny of the nation state.

      Last week’s vote was a disembarkation from the road towards the fruition of this ideal.

  3. Editor

    Phil, I find it highly evident in most of the things you have said that you have an intense dislike for the Conservative party. That is fine. That is your right.

    UKIP may well stand for what it stands for; what I am calling question over is the motivation behind the vote for that party. I am also going on record as saying that exiting Europe is the worst possible move in terms of human and political progress – in exiting Europe we are de-evolving to a time nearly 75 years ago. Self-determination IS possible under the EU as it stands.

    What I suggest is that independence from the EU is a Bad Thing.

    I shall end this fruitless exchange with a quote which was sent to me, and seems apposite:

    “These people take refuge in the pat and chauvinistic slogans because they are incapable of understanding any others, because these slogans are safer from the standpoint of short-term gain, because the truth is sometimes a poor competitor in the market place of ideas – complicated, unsatisfying, full of dilemma, always vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse. The counsels of impatience and hatred can always be supported by the crudest and cheapest symbols; for the counsels of moderation, the reasons are often intricate, rather than emotional, and difficult to explain. And so the chauvinists of all times and places go their appointed way: plucking the easy fruits, reaping the little triumphs of the day at the expense of someone else tomorrow, deluging in noise and filth anyone who gets in their way, dancing their reckless dance on the prospects for human progress, drawing the shadow of a great doubt over the validity of democratic institutions. And until people learn to spot the fanning of mass emotions and the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance as crimes in themselves – as perhaps the greatest disservice that can be done to the cause of popular government – this sort of thing will continue to occur.”

    – George F. Kennan, 1951

  4. Sorry, but I think this it’s very lazy to dismiss anti-EU sentiment as being Xenophobic, Racist or Fascist.

    Yes, peace in Europe is a great thing, I have no argument there.

    But let’s not forget that the EU was mis-sold to the UK as a Trade Agreement and NOT for the political aims that you state.

    Also, the stated model might be Subsidiarity but it’s clearly not what it is in practice when you consider it can result in nonsense like the Metric Martyrs. Seems more like Totalitarianism to me on a daily basis.

    Also, it seems to have escaped you that the EU is currently dominated by right-leaning parties. I’d prefer the UK to be a secular society and the idea of being ruled by any party or grouping with the word “Christian” in their title makes me shudder.

    Xenophobia: Being in favour of a regulated immigration policy does not mean you are anti-immigration. Open borders don’t just allow a freedom of movement for workers but also freedom of movement for every drugs smuggler, people trafficker, sex slaver, etc.

    Finally – you don’t address the fact that we pay an obscene amount of money towards this organisation, which pays MEP so much in allowances that they can easily become millionaires in one term of service, for little economic advantage in return.

    • Editor

      Phil,

      I don’t think it is at all lazy. I believe that I explored the rationale behind voting for what is, essentially, a one issue party, namely UKIP. Irresepective of whether or not the EU was mis-sold – which isn’t relevant – what should be discussed is what it actually is.

      If I felt that the people of the UK were voting for those reasons, then I wouldn’t have come to my ultimate conclusion: that UKIP offers a legitimate way to express an isolationist sentiment, that the BNP can not (being, for many, seen as too extreme, or immoderate, an alternative).

      The evidence for this: every thing about which you speak could have been voted against in the past numerous elections on Europe; so why now? What’s changed? The economy, that’s what. Who are we seeking to stop? Immigrant workers.

      Do you really believe the people of Yorkshire and Humber and the North West of England were voting for the BNP because they were concerned that ‘Open borders’ allow freedom of movement for every drugs smuggler, people trafficker, sex slaver, etc – this argument is spurious, surely.

      Metric Martyrs – really, is that important? Pounds and ounces or grams and kilos? Is the issue of one system of weighing your vegetables really important when one considers what we might be giving up by declaring ourselves independent of Europe: namely, the right to be considered equal to, at least, every other citizen in the European Union; the right to be protected against state and private actors who might otherwise seek to override our inalienable rights as human beings. I don’t think it matters, but if that’s the issue then, by all means, lobby the UK Government to declare that they will not budge on the issue of weights and measures, and that is what will happen. A compromise. The mis-use of the word ‘martyr’ under these circumstances seems extreme, to say the least.

      And whether the EU is right-leaning or left-leaning is something for which the whole EU electorate is responsible. This is a matter for debate. Leaving the EU because it leans to the right slightly would seem strange, given that leaving the EU (in the manner suggested) is an extreme right reaction: yesterday’s result wasn’t “lets leave the EU because it leans to the right” rather, it was “the EU ain’t right-wing enough for me, I’m out!”.

      As for the money the EU costs, this is organisational. I did not suggest the organisational structure of the EU is perfect – I believe it is far from it. That we require reform in UK Government and EU government is clear. However, it is more important that people understand what, I believe, is the dangerous result of moving away from a free Europe based around individual rights and freedoms.

      Again, I reiterate, don’t let the economy ruin the great leaps forward we have made in terms of the freedoms offered by a unified Europe.

      • >The evidence for this: every thing about which you speak could have been voted against in the past numerous elections on Europe; so why now? What’s changed? The economy, that’s what. Who are we seeking to stop? Immigrant workers.

        The economy is not the only thing that has changed, or the only influence on these elections.

        No doubt Immigrant Workers contributed to the the BNP vote, but you turn a blind eye to weeks of expenses scandals – and by all accounts the EU “allowances” gravy train is even worse.

        Metric Martyrs – yes, it IS important when people are IMPRISONED for something that I agree should be trivial – but isn’t – due to EU directives. Where is the “Subsidiarity?” here. Nice idea in principle, but it’s not what the EU is in practice.

        The EU being mis-sold is absolutely relevant – we are being governed by an institution that nobody in this country voted to join in its current form. And this is the single issue UKIP was formed to challenge, and this is not the only election in which they gained support. That does not mean that they should be tarred with the same brush as the BNP – they are clearly not racist, and acting in the best interests of your own country is not necessarily xenophobic.

        Also, I find it odd that if you are so content to group UKIP and the BNP together and yet neglect to mention that the Conservatives are aligning themselves with some very sinister right-wing allies in the EU when they think we aren’t looking.

        I’m all for a Europe based in individual rights and freedoms but I feel you are viewing this grotesquely expensive, far too powerful “centre” right gravy train through rose coloured spectacles.

        Wanting out of the EU does not make you racist, xenophobic or fascist, and suggesting so is EXTREMELY lazy. I see my freedoms eroded on a daily basis, as a direct result of EU directives.

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