Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Bring on the referendum!

So, people of Britain, you’re going to vote No in the constitution referendum because you’re a bunch of xenophobes are you? Because you’re a mass of ignorant bigots who still remember the bosch marching over the Channel to make you all drive VWs. Forget Europe, you’re all Americans now!

Actually, there are plenty of reasons why, with a decent bit of publicity, people might vote Yes especially if this vote comes down to whether we should stay in Europe altogether. Nobody will vote No if their nice farmhouse in France will get snatched back as a consequence. They won’t vote No if a quick weekend break in Venice might involve visas. They will vote Yes if they realise that most of the advances in employment and consumer protection have come from Europe and not our own government. They will vote Yes if they go along to Birminham’s city centre and see the remarkable transformation that has been achieved largely with European money.

The good thing about the referendum is that it forces the government to start promoting Europe’s achievements and power instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. They need to avoid the pathetic arguments and marginalise the thinking that says all Europe does is dictate the shape of our bananas. Where Europe has faults, which it does, they should work to address them. They should force MEPs to talk to their constituents from time to time. This is a real opportunity to get the British people to understand how regional, national and European government interlink and who deals with what, empowering them to start using these institutions to their advantage.

Most of what is being said about the constitution is too vague for anyone to make any sense of. It may not be the perfect constitution but if anyone really wanted us to be involved in making it better they would have kicked up a fuss two years ago during the consultation period, not when the thing is virtually finished. For good or bad, it will set out what we can expect from Europe in one document which we can refer to when required. This isn’t a concept we’re used to in Britain, but it might not harm us. The introduction to the constitution is actually quite an inspiring collection of values which few would disagree with and the rest is mainly aims and aspirations rather than specifics.

Many people in Britain actually have a very wide world view – that’s the nice consequence of the British Empire and what makes us feel so superior to the Americans (amongst many, many other things - smugness being one of our less attractive traits). The EU is already involved in common foreign policy where it’s efficient and where help from an individual state such as Britain might not be welcome. That’s a Good Thing. But if the UK wants to go to war against the wishes of France and most of its own population, this constitution isn’t going to stop it. We need to stop thinking of the EU as a sneaky Germanic superstate and compare it to America. Texas and California have entirely different tastes when it comes to the death penalty but they all manage to work together where it suits them. The EU is no different and all this talk of protecting ourselves against the threat of federalism is simply making us look stupid.

The British people should be trusted to have a bit of sense and vote Yes. It might help if Blair wasn’t in charge of the campaign though.

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