Like many people across Europe, I find it rather strange that the UK is to have a referendum on the question of whether to leave or remain in the European union (EU). There really is no popular demand for such a vote. however it seems as though we will be having this vote at some point this year and people don’t seem engaged or interested in such a question. I think most people know that the UK is only having this referendum for party political reasons in the ruling Conservative party.
All my life, as a UK citizen I have never had the opportunity to vote on any matter regarding the EU before, so it does seem a really bizarre question, I would like to be asked what direction I feel the EU should go in. I and I think most UK citizens are neither passionately for the EU or against it. Indeed it seems that only those towards the extreme right and extreme left are against the existence of the EU, whilst most people of the political centre generally have a favourable attitude towards the EU.
I describe myself as a Euro-pragmatist, I believe international cooperation is a good thing, provided it’s democratically accountable and delivers mutual benefits. I am also a strong believer in devolution, I believe political power should be transferred to citizens at as local a level as is practical, the EU is, regrettably, a centralising institution.
So, there are economic benefits of being a member of the EU and disadvantages. Furthermore there are advantages and disadvantages in leaving in the EU. However, even to a relatively well informed person, it is difficult to make an assessment of the balance between the two posibilites.
My main criticism of the EU is it’s lack of democratic accountability. Most decisions are made by the Council of Ministers, an appointed and thus undemocratic body. Then there is the European Parliament, which has few powers and MEPs are elected via a proportional system, which gives Wales 4 MEPs, it takes a massive change in party affiliation to change representatives and have any real influence. It took the Liberal Democrats falling to 7% of the vote to lose their Welsh MEP (the fall of the LibDems had nothing to do with EU policy), this allowed a huge surge in support for UKIP to get their one Welsh MEP (which was arguably more to do with the immigration issue than the EU per se).
So, on democratic grounds, perhaps the UK should reject the EU. But, and it is a massive but, the UK doesn’t have an effective democratic framework either! We have an arcane FPTP system, suited to two major party blocs which don’t use whipped votes. Nearly every UK parliamentary vote is whipped and we now have a multi-party democracy. At the last election one third of voters did not vote for one of the two traditional blocks, even though these ‘minority’ parties had zero chance of forming a government.
The problem with British democracy is that every time the electorate is asked a question or there is an election, the ‘choice’ is always trying the pick the least bad option between two possibilities. It is this same choice we are being offered with the EU referendum: Is staying in or leaving the EU the least worst option.
My personal feeling is to remain in the EU, even if only for the fact that membership is likely to buffer the crippling effects of the Conservative regime in London. I think that the electorate will do what they tend to do, which is choose the devil they know rather than the devil they don’t know. However I don’t think the result will be in any way conclusive. I would imagine turnout will be really low, because the vast majority of people are not really engaged with this issue, but there will be a desire to kick Cameron and his cronies. The opinion polls also suggest it will be close, so perhaps neither the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ campaign will gain >50% support. It could be that the UK leaves the EU, when the vast majority of people didn’t really want to.