Mike Vickers' Blog

February 28, 2016

Western Civilisation and why we need to remain part of it

Filed under: economics, Europe, History in the making, Music, Painting, Politics, War — derryvickers @ 9:01 pm

Cameron’s deal with Brussels despite Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian was ‘Much Ado about Nothing’

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/david-cameron-eu-deal-brussels-media-reaction

Is the deal anyway legally binding – I don’t know – I’m not a constitutional lawyer. In any case like all laws they can be rescinded. I have no doubt that if the EU Referendum result is for Out then the new Tory incumbent of Number 10 would quickly rescind any such laws; indeed she would be commitment bound to Brexit.

By the real question is why are we in Europe anyway and the same question applies equally why is Scotland in the UK. Despite what one might think from the media, Scotland voted to join England to create the UK by the Act of Union; one could argue that some duress was brought to bear but nevertheless the Union was voted through, through the then Scottish Parliament. There is duress in most unions; but the UK joining Europe was not one of them. The UK applied three times to join the then EEC and succeeded on the third attempt under the Tory PM Edward Heath – no duress here.

Looking back to the end of WW2

‘The European Economic Community (EEC) was created against the backdrop of post World War II Europe, with the aim of never again allowing human rights atrocities such as those committed by Germany.  Three Communities were founded in the 1950s: the Coal and Steel Community, the Atomic Energy Community and the Economic Community, with their own law-making institutions and flag.’

One of the drivers to setting up the EEC was Churchill who was also an instigator of the European Court of Human Rights.

We cannot aim at anything less than the Union of Europe as a whole, and we look forward with confidence to the day when that Union will be achieved.’

OK Churchill was a somewhat left of centre Tory but a Tory no doubt.

And to me both the EU as successor to the EEC along with the European Court are rightful products of us as members of Western Civilisation.

Yes European Wars have been going on for 3 millennia, ever since Athens established the ground work for Western Civilisation, but since the EEC was set up there have, with the exception of the Bosnian wars, been no wars since – a real plus. I am not suggesting that should the UK Brexit we will automatically launch a war with our European neighbours; and I have little doubt that should another war take place in Europe we will go to the aid of one side. But why risk it.

An enduring memory, for me, was when lessons were stopped in my primary school days to listen to the war reporters provide on-line commentaries from the D Day landings. I prefer not to sit and listen to such reporting of this nature in my lifetime.

The EU if far from perfect; it does worry about setting up trivia rather than taking the high road; but whose fault is it that Brussels avoids the high road; certainly the UK objects to anything that smacks of central policy and direction. One of Cameron’s agreements,               that he considered key, was ’ever closer union’ is about trust and understanding, not political integration.

If ever there was a need for direction by the EU it is now with immigrants seeking asylum from the Middle East and Afghanistan, with a well structured fiscal policy rightly or wrongly based on the euro; a far better understand between Europe north and south and a mature and workable foreign policy not only with respect to Russia but with the Far East and with the US.  Why is the US pressing hard to keep the UK in Europe? It is hardly for financial reasons, for all its financial problem the US economy is far larger and stronger than the UK’s or for that matter Europe as a whole.

The UK boasts of its strong financial position with respect to Europe but ‘come the revolution’ that would evaporate; the UK has no fall back on manufacturing compared with the other states of Europe; Germany of course but France and Italy also. But it’s not the economy stupid it’s that the UK is integral to Europe, we play their music, act their plays and appreciate their art; and so does the US. The US is as bound to Europe is as the UK is; after all the US expelled its indigenous peoples and peopled it with Spanish, French, English and Scots. If the UK left Europe the US would lose its interlocutor with Europe and that’s why Obama seems so worried with a UK Out. The Marshall Plan wasn’t wholly altruistic.

Clearly the UK could exist outside the EU just as Scotland could exist outside the UK. The UK would continue to trade with the rest of the world but the UK is a minnow compared with the US and China and increasingly India. But that is not the point, for good or ill and I believe because that’s where I was brought up, for good, we are part of the Western World; a world which largely recognises and abides by Human Rights and whose governments generally act civilly towards its citizens, and I would be loathed to be outside its main stream culturally and morally.

PS I believe in local government, which is missing in Scotland, but I see no contradictions in local government being within the umbrella of a regional council which is within Scottish/ UK Government which in turn is within the umbrella of a Europeans Commission responsible to the European Parliament.

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February 25, 2016

Our place in Europe

Filed under: Europe, Music, Scotland — derryvickers @ 3:57 pm

Last night we saw, in Edinburgh, Ariodante an opera by Handel a German with a libretto by Ariosto an Italian, produced by Scottish Opera with a Scottish Conductor, a heroine, Sarah Tynan, from London and only the hero, Caitlin Hulcup, from outside Europe, Australia.

And we are asked to vote on leaving the Europe in June. Civilisation as we know it has borne in Europe; whether in Athens or at Skara Brae(that’s in Orkney) it is our heritage and one doesn’t give that up easily.

By the way the production of Ariodante was excellent.

February 18, 2016

Understanding European Challenges – RSE 16 February 2016

Filed under: Europe, Politics, Scotland, War — derryvickers @ 8:57 pm

We attended a full day conference organised by the Royal Society of Edinburgh under the above title. I believe it is the first of a series of seminars on various aspects of UK independence from the EU.

The agenda of the conference is given in the Appendix including the speakers.

I give below my impressions of the various sessions and speakers. I have made no attempt to give details of each session – this would take too long and in any case I will have not accurately captured all the details. I understand that sessions were being recorded and these recordings will become available on the RSE website.

The key note speech was given by Brigid Laffan. She concentrated on, as she said them the unprecedented challenges now facing the EU: the North South divide, the UK’s renegotiation, the refugee problem splitting the east and west, the Cleavage in the Real Economy centred on the Euro and dealing with Russia. On the positive side there is the Single Market, Community values and common laws. She acknowledged that the EU is centralist and there remains a problem of ‘redistribution’.

Anand Menon provided a more ‘pragmatic view’, he dwelt particularly on the impact of the coming referendum on British Politics; Cameron and Corbyn. He worried about the general apathy of the young to all politics; the relationship between the EU Executive and the European Parliament but stressed that in his view the Euro member countries must keep the Euro.

Paul Gillespie had considered a number of case of the UK in, the UK out, and half in and half out, (shake it all about) and stressed the impact on Eire and Northern Ireland relations if the UK left the EU including border control – I felt somewhat OTT as this situation had existed pre Ireland in the EU.   You can find Paul’s book at http://www.iiea.com/publications/brexit-legally-effective-alternatives.

Joanne Hunt was more concerned about the Westminster v Welsh Assembly relations / reserved matters as they already exist – the much favoured expression of the Elephant in Room came up.

Andrew Scott was also concerned that the EU membership is a reserved matter so that there is no legal opportunity for Scotland to apply to join the EU while remaining in the UK should the UK leave.

John Fossum considered the various options in principle to a country outside the EU working with the EU. He specially concentrated on the EEA – European Economic Area of which Norway as a member of EFTA participates in the free market of the EU without being a member of it. In Fossum’s view Norway suffered from all the downsides of the EU but failed to be part of the decision / policy making of it. Fossum noted that there is strong disagreement between the ordinary people in Norway and the politic elite as to membership of the EU

Ewen Stewart of Global Britain provided a whole set of statistics to show that the UK still holds a prominent place in the world and is being dragged down by as he sees it the failing EU so the UK should break away. Osborne would be proud. A closer look of the stats will be useful when these are made available through the RSE website. A couple would show that the UK is being boosted financially by London (the largest financial city in the World) and through speaking English; 70% of Chinese Contracts are in English – thanks to the US. Stewart quotes TINA – there is no alternative – support for free market, free trade and capitalist globalisation.

To the Discussion and Summary – all speakers except Joanne Hunt and Andrew Scott.

While the individual sessions had been delivery in a quiet tone the speakers in the discussion became more animated. Just a very few points that I caught:

  • European Regulation is OTT
  • Brussels is bureaucratic – but the Menon pointed out that the figures do not show Brussels as profligate – just the opposite
  • The EU requires ‘one size fits all’ – oddly a comment made by Willie Rennie later in the day about the Scottish Government
  • Life in the EU is now existential
  • Our vocabulary is outdated eg Nationalism, Sovereignty
  • Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on withdrawal from the EU
  • The voting on the UK referendum will be on the Constitution and on the Economics
  • Whether the UK stays in the EU is as much to do with the 27 other countries of Europe as it is to do with the One, the UK – a fact surfacing only today – Thursday 18 Feb 2016
  • Cameron’s position if the UK votes No. There are echoes here of the Repeal of the Corn Laws pushed through by Robert Peel ,a Tory PM, against the wishes of his Tory Party in 1846
  • London is English not European
  • The North South divide is not just a European problem, it exists in the UK too
  • Scotland has lost its control of fishing rights
  • There are 250,000 members of the EU in Scotland
  • A lady of Spain bemoaning that she could lose all her benefits of being in the UK if the UK goes independent even though she has been here for 43 years
  • Brigid Laffan reminding us that the forerunner of the EU was set up with the prime purpose of ensuring that the European Nations would never go to war almost themselves. This point, as far as I was concerned, had been omitted throughout the previous 6 hours.

My thoughts on the day

In general all the speakers other than Stewart were in favour of the UK remaining in the EU – although until the final discussion they hid their inclinations well.

I agree that we should remain in the EU, mainly to migrate the chances of another intra- European war.

Nevertheless the EU has serious problems that it must tackle: these include managing the refugees, sorting out the North South divide along with the Euro, supra national and national identities as stated by Laffan in her key note speech. But it does seem to me that the EU is falling between two stools: on the one stood is a loose confederation of sovereign nation states and the other is a federal Europe with an overall constitution rejected by the Lisbon Treaty. The former stool is the one that Cameron is aiming at; the other stool looks, at least till recently, preferred by Germany. There is unlikely to be peace in the EU countries until this dichotomy is resolved.

Appendix

16 February, 2016 Royal Society of Edinburgh

16 February 2016 – 9am to 3.30pm at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Keynote speaker: Brigid Laffan MRIA, Director and Professor at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Director of the Global Governance Programme, European University Institute (EUI), Florence. The European Union is facing unprecedented challenges, including the problems of the Euro, the refugee crisis, and turbulence in its neighbourhood. The conference will address these questions and the different possible futures for Europe. It will examine the issues in the relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe, and the way they are seen in the nations and regions. It will also look at the alternatives to EU membership should the UK decide in the coming referendum that it wishes to withdraw.

Organised in partnership with The Centre on Constitutional Change and the ESRC’s The UK in a Changing Europe.

09.00-09.10 – 09.00-09.10: Welcome – Dame Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, President, RSE 09.10-09.15: Introduction – Sir Muir Russell FRSE, Chairman 09.15-10.05: Challenges to Europe, Professor Brigid Laffan MRIA, European University Institute

10.05-10.50: Issues for UK, Professor Anand Menon, King’s College London, Director of The UK in a Changing Europe

11.15-12.30: Views from:

  •  Ireland – Dr Paul Gillespie, Irish Times and University College Dublin
  •  Wales – Dr Joanne Hunt, Cardiff University, ESRC Senior Fellow
  •  Scotland – Professor Andrew Scott, University of Edinburgh

12.30-13.30: Lunch 13.30-14.30: Alternatives to EU, Professor John Erik Fossum, University of Oslo and Ewen Stewart, Director, Global Britain

14.30- 15.30 Discussion and Summary

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