10 September 2014

Two European Futures

There are many strands of contemporary UK policy which are, in their own ways, dismaying. One of the more underexposed in the independence debate is the frequently irrational spirit of anxiety gripping Westminster and Fleet Street about all things European. At times, it has shades of a persecution complex. Underlined by Douglas Carswell's defection to UKIP from the Tories last week, it has an obvious and ongoing European Union manifestation, but also touches on European human rights norms, and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

These issues cannot be tucked away behind a safe little firewall from the constitutional debate in Scotland, to be considered at a later date. The No campaign has made much of the risks and uncertainties of an independent Scotland's EU accession. They have focussed not only on timeline and terms of an independent Scotland joining the other 28 member states: they couldn't resist overplaying their hand, recklessly drawing attention to their own weakest spot. Against almost all of the evidence and reasonable commentary, for months, Better Together have been stirring up the idea that Scotland would be pitched out of the EU into the north Atlantic cold. The game, it seems, continues with reports of their activists dishonestly telling Polish voters that their families would be uprooted if Scotland votes Yes next week.  

But a moment's consideration will tell you that this is a political boomerang for the No campaign, bedevilled by its own rich superabundance of risks and uncertainties about the United Kingdom's continued participation in the European Union and its legal recognition of your basic civil and political rights. In a piece for the Journal today - "Damned lies and bogus statistics..." -  I take a look at the facts and figures, lies and fictions, which currently dominate the UK airwaves and David Cameron's cabinet, on Britain's participation in these modest international schemes to provide some human rights remedy, some modest protection for your privacy rights, your liberty, your right to be free of torture, and not to be exposed to flagrant injustice or inhuman and degrading treatment.

It is a grim reminder of how precisely we are supposed to be Better Together. It isn't the whole story, certainly, but it is an important, urgent part of the wider UK picture. Amid the tempest of dross, there have been some wonderfully sensitive and nuanced pieces of writing in recent days from those who intend to vote No, with Chris Deerin and Alex Massie standing out for me, and I imagine, for others. I don't share their convictions on the constitution, or sense of British identity, but you can admire the graciousness of the prose and the evident thoughtfulness undergirding it. David Cameron asked a choice audience today not to "break his heart." That the campaign must have an emotional dimension always seemed to me entirely proper.

But we can't let these compelling night thoughts on the union sunset distract us from the real bother which a No vote drags us into, unavoidably. If we vote against independence on the 18th of September, there is every possibility that Scotland is going to crash out of the ECHR, on the basis of a fairy tale. And to adapt Tam Dalyell, we find ourselves set, by the raging fever gripping UK politics, on a motorway, with fewer and fewer turnoffs and exits, to a future outside of the European Union, whatever Scots might think either way.

Tossed into the steaming cauldron of the House of Commons, it makes for a potent combination: a witch's brew of misplaced anxieties, madcap delusions of victimhood, and an imperviousness to pretty simple facts. With independence and continuing union, there are opportunities and risks, costs and benefits. If you are inclined to weigh the stability of the status quo against the uncertainties of independence, put aside that misconception now. If you value the judicial protection of your fundamental rights, if you think that the European Convention represents a small, embattled achievement rather than the cartoonish abomination which the inner circle of Cameron's cabinet see, Scotland's place in the Union looks like the riskier option by far.  All you need do is vote yes to dispel the fairy tale.

Read the full piece here.

1 comment :

  1. Excellent post, as is your article in the Journal. I've posted both on facebook. Thanks for highlighting the truth.