“Ah, thanks to the EU referendum we are going to see some democracy at last. In fact, we are recovering our democracy. We have had enough of the European Union”, said a Leave supporter to me last week.
What a misguided idea!
The EU is an organisation made up by National Governments. All the important EU laws, the EU Treaties, have to be passed by each one of the European Governments, including our own Government in the UK.
It is up to individual countries (the EU has no say on this) to decide how these European Treaties are approved internally, at the national level. In our case, it is our MPs in Westminster who have voted in favour of every single one of the EU treaties, often following tough negotiations, for the last 40 years. The Treaty of Maastricht, The Treaty of Nice, The Treaty of Lisbon were signed by a British Prime Minister following parliamentary debate in the UK.
In other countries like Ireland, for the approval of the EU treaties a popular referendum is required. In the UK, we trust, naively, the solidity and transparency of our national parliamentary system.
People who think that our lack of democracy in the UK comes from being part of the EU do not understand where the problem stems from. Someone said to me recently:
“We (the British) are the architects of democracy”.
I said to myself:
“I can’t see the architects of this fine building in need of serious refurbishment around. They must be dead by the age of the construction. This guy has not ever heard of Private Eye”.
We are at the heart of Europe. That is an economic, social, historical, cultural and political fact that we cannot hide under the carpet by detaching ourselves from the EU. We are no Switzerland or Norway. We are the second largest member of the Union. It is true that we need to build a better EU, but that only can be done from the inside, not by leaving.
And what about our sovereignty?
In order to have a better national democracy and a more effective control of our UK affairs the first thing we need to do is to vote for Remain and don’t distract our attention with painful and economically uncertain renegotiations of trade treaties, which could take many years, and huge internal changes to our EU laws, which frankly, are there for a reason (protecting the environment, consumers, workers…) and do not prevent us from improving our national democracy at all.
This EU referendum is not part of a plan to improve the way the UK political system works. The Tories and UKIP, promoters of this plebiscite, have no intention to hold any more referendums on other matters. If anything, sadly, this “democratic” referendum experience may put people off direct democracy, and democracy altoghether.
Bear in mind that it is very difficult to make an informed and rational decision in complex issues such as leaving the EU in such a short period of time. One thing is voting for your MP, who you can meet and like or dislike. Another is being asked to make a one-off, one-in-a-life-time decision which would test anyone’s combined critical understanding of History, Economics, Politics, Business, Human Geography and Law, all in a UK, European and international context.
The vast majority of people in this country are not used to research, debate and decide anything political. We are only expected to vote every 5 years in the General Elections. Only a tiny minority of people are actively involved in political campaigning and debate. The percentages of participation in the General Elections are not impressive. Around 40% of people don’t bother. In the case of local elections and the referendum on proportional representation (2011) the levels of engagement are simply a shame in our UK political system (around 25% vote in local elections). We live, like in most other Western countries, in a very “laid back democracy”.
For those who believe in democracy, here is our priority:
We must tackle apathy, our democratic institutions need to connect with people, we need to build a better democratic fabric in society, with more direct democracy on issues we can and should have a say like education, jobs, health or transport. Let people take more responsibility on more manageable, tangible, local and national, matters.
Interestingly, progressive popular empowerment is the only way to have UK Governments that have the strength, legitimacy and honesty to defend our interests in Brussels, within the EU, in coordination with other democratic governments and movements of other EU countries.
The last thing we need is a ToryKIP Government, fired up by Brexit, that runs away from the top tables in the World and turns its back on their own people and on the rest of our allies and friends in Europe.
Democracy in the UK is possible, Another Europe is Possible, but only if we vote Remain.
If you love this country and its people, as I do, (not necessarily its political system), don’t vote Leave.