It’s not often I write a blog post, but with the EU Referendum nearly upon us, I thought I’d better hack at the keyboard and bleat out my opinion – just in case I regret not doing so.  Every little helps and all that…

Implications for the United Kingdom

Firstly, lets consider what would happen in the UK were to leave the EU.  What exactly would be leaving the EU?

Put bluntly, if we leave the European Union, Scotland will almost certainly leave the UK because the polling suggests Scotland is overwhelmingly in favour of the EU – indeed it was a central plank of the SNPs post-independence plan (whatever your opinion of the plan itself!).  The SNP would push for a second referendum very much sooner rather than later.

The result?  Two of the most successful partnerships in the UK’s history will be ripped apart within a couple of years of each other.  This would be a legal, diplomatic, economic, financial, social and political upheaval which would deeply damage the UK for years to come.  Just think of all the money being spent on lawyers trying to disentangle all that integration!  It’d be like going through a divorce whilst disowning your family.  It would not be pretty.

There’s also a bizarre irony in this situation – with Scotland in the EU and the rest of the UK outside, we would likely end up with a land border with the Schengen Area.  So if you are worried about uncontrolled migration or the ability of the UK to control its borders, this is not the way to address it.

The peace in Northern Ireland could also be affected, especially if border controls were to be reinstated along the Irish border.  The Republic of Ireland is currently outside the Schengen Area, but if we leave the EU and Scotland leaves the UK that might change.  Any move that would endanger peace in Northern Ireland would simply be reckless.

And finally, we have to consider Gibraltar and the Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.  Leaving the EU could make arrangements in both cases more difficult, especially in Gibraltar where the population desperately wants to stay in the EU.

The Economy and the Single Market

This is possibly harsh on economists, but it does seem as though economics is less a science and more an art form at times.  We can’t crystal ball gaze.  We don’t know what the EU will look like economically in 10, 20, 30 years time – it certainly has some difficult times ahead with instability in the Eurozone.  We can’t say the UK will thrive or wither outside the EU either because it is an unknown quantity.  So I’m not going to crystal ball gaze either on the general economic outlook.

What is clear though is that the Single Market makes trading goods and services in the EU easier than anywhere else in the world because we’re all working to the same standards.  The same standards mean assured quality and no additional checks when moving good and services around Europe.  By its definition this gets rid of lots of day-to-day red tape and makes life simpler overall.  There are frequent claims that this in fact creates red-tape – but if the ‘red-tape’ ensures, let’s say, that standards in food production covers what can be included in meat products, then I’d say that was quite important.  Think the horse meat scandal

I’m sure there probably are regulations that need reforming, but to get bad regulations reformed we need to be in the EU to influence the reform process.  If we leave the EU we simply won’t have that input anymore – either we have to live with the decisions of the EU or not have access to the Single Market as we currently do – and life would get that bit more complicated.

Migration

We have an ageing population due to increasingly life expectancy and decreasing birth rates.  The ageing population is going to become increasingly reliant on the taxes, care and support of younger generations.  Without immigration we’ll simply end up with a labour shortage, including in the NHS and social care.  So in the EU or not, we’d still need large scale immigration.

There is a bizarre claim we need an Australian style points system for all immigration, even though Australia has higher immigration per head of population than the UK.  Australia also has a worrying policy of detention on its outlying islands – not an approach I am inclined to support.  However, we do have a points-based systems for non-EU migrants!  The irony here is that there are complaints that it is too restrictive from various organisations such as universities, and the Leave campaign itself has refused to commit to lower levels of immigration.

A further twist to the immigration story is that EU migration is currently lower than non-EU migration.  So the area of migration we have direct control over is apparently too restrictive despite it accounting for over half of net migration to the UK.

Leaving the EU, however, wouldn’t necessarily allow us to limit EU migration even if we wanted to.  Access to the Single Market depends on free movement of people – just ask Norway!  And we can’t seriously be considering a world in which – in the EU or not – we wouldn’t want access to the Single Market.

EU Army or NATO

Since World War 2, the UK’s primary defence relationship has been the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).  NATO faced down the Warsaw Pact in the Cold War, with many of those countries now either members of NATO or with cooperative agreements in place.  Countries that 30 years ago had nuclear missiles on their soil pointing at western Europe are now joining in union with us.  NATO is a massive success, but it’s biggest problem is that far too many of its members don’t meet the 2% of GDP spending target for NATO members.  We need to be actively engaged in Europe to encourage our European partners to meet their NATO commitments, especially in the face of renewed Russian aggression.

Talk of an EU Army would require the unanimous and explicit consent of all EU member nations, as does deploying existing European combined formations.  However, the UK does not have any interest in abandoning control of its Armed Forces, and I doubt nations such as France do either – France have traditionally been reluctant to integrate into NATO.  NATO provides the EU with collective security alongside the USA and Canada, and various internal partners.  Only our government could hand control to of our Armed Forces to anyone else.

Turkey

Turkey will probably join the EU, at some point, after it has met all the requirements of membership, after all EU member nations approve its accession.  At the present rate of progress that’ll be in 20-50 years time.  I’m plucking numbers out of the air here because, honestly, no one knows when Turkey might join the EU but we do know that it will not be any time soon.

The UK government’s position is to help Turkey on this path – but it is a long path Turkey must tread.  The Remain campaign should be honest about this point, especially as Turkey has historically had quite a secular society, being sandwiched between Europe and the Middle East.  Whilst that secularism has been endangered recently and Turkey is going through a turbulent time, one day I think it’ll make a fine addition to the European family.

‘Take Back Control’, etc.

Firstly lets lay something to bed.  The European Parliament is composed of directly elected MEPs.  The European Council is composed of the elected heads of European national governments.  The European Commission is composed of the commissioners appointed by national governments.  There are a number of European presidents – none of which are like the President of the USA.  Is any of this less democratic than our unelected House of Lords?

The above begs the following questions.  Take back control from who?  What control do you think we’ve lost?  Which bit of control do you want to take back?

Answers to these questions all rather depend on your perspective:

If you consider yourself to be, say, a Scouser (as I am) above all else, then you might think Liverpool should unilaterally declare independence from the UK and ‘take back control’ from the UK government.  If you’re Scottish you might think the same for Scotland (as some do).

But what if you start from the point-of-view that you’re a human being.  That, as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are all valuable regardless of creed, colour, ethnicity, beliefs, or nationality.  In the wake of the horrors of World War 2 we decided to setup and work within international institutions like the United Nations – to work for a better future for humanity free of avoidable misery and despotism that has so far plighted human history.  Would we seriously consider withdrawing from the UN General Assembly, the UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, UNICEF, the Geneva Convention, UN Convention on Law of the Sea, UNESCO, the World Health Organisation or the Antarctic Treaty?  These are all treaties or bodies that place restrictions on our government but, just like the EU, we signed up to these organisations of our own free will because they were good ideas that continue to have value.

Of course, different types of governance belong at different levels.  Your local council should provide local services, your national government should exercise sovereignty, and national governments should work in regional and global cooperation.  Doesn’t that make sense?  The historical alternative have included dictatorships, war, civil war and sectarian violence – or a combination thereof.

It may be centuries for the human race to be truly united in common endeavour (and all other such good stuff), but peace and prosperity in Europe is not a bad step towards a better world.

Remain

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the UK has the opportunity to forge a new path.

If we leave, we will have to forge a new path outside of the EU, with all the uncertainty that brings with it.

If we remain in the EU, we must decide what our place will be.  Will we remain a reluctant partner sat on the side lines trying to protect our special status in the EU?  Or will we step up to take our place as a (the?) leading nation in Europe, leading the debate on what is right for all of Europe?

If we renew out commitment to the EU, maybe we should then think about what that means to us.  Maybe we’ll start caring about who we elect to the European Parliament.  Maybe we’ll also start caring a bit more about the future of the Commonwealth of Nations and how that fits with our EU membership.  Maybe the UK public can regain its national confidence on the world stage and brighten the beacon for those less fortunate.

Maybe, just maybe, we stand on the precipice of a Golden Era for the United Kingdom – being the willing counterpoint for the EU, the Commonwealth of Nations, the USA and the United Nations – if only we have guts to stand up and lead.

So let us Remain and Stand

Today I came across this little cherub of a website about the ongoing “regeneration” of Kirkby Town Centre.

As background, some years ago Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council, in partnership with Tesco and Everton Football Club, launched the ‘Destination Kirkby’ fiasco.  This was an attempt to place a new stadium for Everton alongside a new retail development, which would be adjacent to a regenerated St. Chad’s Parade: AKA the existing Town Centre.

However, a Public Enquiry decided in November 2009 that the plan should not go ahead as it was not in the best interests of Kirkby.  Since then Tesco has revised its plans, supposedly moving ahead without the stadium component of the plan.  So far there has been little evidence of any work done by Tesco and Knowsley Council to advance the project.  It can be summed up as follows:

  • The closed, dilapidated Golden Eagle Hotel has been knocked down, leaving a huge pile of rubble behind!
  • The Kirkby Suite has been gutted to make way for a ‘modern public services centre’ – you can see commentary on that at KirkbyTown.net and the closure and demolition of the existing Library will no doubt shortly follow the reopening of the ‘redeveloped’ Kirkby Centre.  The complete removal of the Kirkby Suite’s entertainment facilities will result in the net loss of services in Kirkby, not a gain of any sort.
  • They have knocked down the old market, and have started building a new one.  Which is great… except that seems to be a prelude to the closure of the InShops… so another net cut in the services offered to Kirkby’s residents.
  • And… well that’s about it really, save this recent announcement on demolishing housing…

So step-by-step, let’s rip apart this article:

Construction work is under way on the first stage of development to pave way for the new Tesco store in Kirkby’s £200m town centre regeneration.

Contractor Keepmoat is on site at St Kevin’s Drive to build 71 new homes for Plus Dane Group and Cherryfield Co-operative residents who currently live on Cherryfield Drive.

This rather suggests that the housing associations involved are doing the work, and it is not part of the redevelopment funding package.  It should be noted that with a growing population and serious social problems, Kirkby’s green space is being gradually destroyed – with this being one of the final nails in the coffin for open playing fields.

Once the St Kevin’s Drive development has been completed, the residents’ former homes on Cherryfield Drive will be demolished. This will allow construction work to start on the new 146,000 sq ft superstore and retail units in the town centre.

It may very well allow Tesco to begin construction work, but given their fall in profits, withdrawal from the USA, shift in focus to home deliveries and £804m write-down of their UK property portfoilio, one is left wondering whether they actually have any intention of delivering their planned redevelopment.  The worst-case scenario is that these houses on Cherryfield Drive are demolished and, like the Golden Eagle Hotel, remain a pile of rubble for years to come.

Cllr Dave Lonergan, Knowsley Council’s cabinet member for regeneration, economy and skills, said: “It is fantastic to see construction work under way on St Kevin’s Drive and I’m really pleased that residents can now look forward to being in their new homes. The council and our partners have been working incredibly hard behind the scenes to drive the regeneration programme forward despite the ongoing national economic difficulties, and I’m delighted that residents can now see visible signs of the great progress we are making in Kirkby.”

Is Cllr Lonergan for real? A few yet-to-be built houses does not represent great progress.  Kirkby Town Centre is a shadow of its former self, Kirkby’s public services are in ruin (with the exception of the sparkly – but PFI funded – Kirkby Health Centre), and there is the imminent threat of the closure of the Kirkby campus of Knowsley Community College.

A spokesman for Tesco said: “This is a huge step forward for the Kirkby town centre regeneration programme. Once the new properties have been built, the vacant houses will be demolished to make way for the new Tesco store and other retail facilities. It is great news for residents that we are about to take such a significant step forward. This is a key milestone in the delivery of the new town centre for Kirkby.”

So, admittedly, Tesco have made a statement saying they are going to go through with the development.  But where are the timescales and what is the final plan?  It has changed frequently.  This has been going on now for a decade or more and all we have are weak statements about ‘huge steps forward’ yet no end in sight for a generation of failure.

Tesco’s plans were approved at the second attempt in 2011. Earlier plans were dismissed after a public inquiry in 2009. The scheme was reduced by 40% from 500,700 sq ft to 300,400 sq ft and a proposed stadium for Everton FC removed.

And 2 years later there hasn’t been a single new build in Kirkby Town Centre.  In fact a good number of shops have emptied because, to my knowledge, Tesco are gradually pushing up the rent of all the Town Centre tenants – as they own pretty much all of it.  In the mean time the people of Kirkby are suffering the ill-effects of years of mismanagement and under-investment.

So in short, this isn’t any major sign of progress, Kirkby Town Centre still looks half abandoned, and Tesco and the entirely Labour controlled Knowsley Council have consigned the residents of Kirkby to a bleak foreseeable future.

Ah, don’t you just love “regeneration”…

My musings on the Alternative Vote Referendum in the UK:

First posted on Facebook 5th May 2011, the day of the referendum

Here are 5 good reasons to vote NO to AV today:

1 – Our big problem is that so few people actually vote in elections. AV will make no difference to voter turnout, yet could result in skewed vote outcomes depending on how many alternative votes people caste;

2 – AV will not decrease or increase the chance of a Hung Parliament in the future. That is still down to how the electorate votes: whilst AV may produce a result by different means, the result is still dependent on the voting pattern, which is something we cannot mystically forsee.

3 – The argument that it will stop extremists getting in is entirely misleading: afterall if enough people vote for any particular candidate then they will win the election whether they are an extremist or not. Failure of mainstream political parties to engage with the ‘silent majority’ will not be fixed by switching to AV.

4 – Although it is not all that complicated for the voter to understand the Alternative Vote system, it is more open to electoral fraud because of the greater complexity of counting the votes. First Past The Post is far more transparent.

5 – NOW for the most compelling reason… AV has already been declared a stepping stone to Proportional Representation (PR) by the Lib Dems. This is the system by which the BNP and UKIP manage to get seats in the European Parliament! It will destroy the connection between MP and constituency, and almost certainly increase corruption and decrease local representation in the House of Commons. Voting NO to AV will kill any possibility of a future vote on PR!

So I say VOTE NO to AV – TODAY.

But whether you think yes or no to AV, MAKE SURE YOU ACTUALLY VOTE!

(Disclaimer – I am not aligned to any political party… I just think that AV is a load of old tosh!)