Monday, April 07, 2014

The EU and the UK: Where is the vision?

Asked, in his second debate with Nigel Farage, what the European Union would look like in 10 years' time, Nick Clegg's instinctive response was to say it would look "quite similar to what it is now".

The next morning, bowled a juicy half volley on his LBC phone-in by Caron Lindsay, he named the three things he most wanted to change about the European Union as:
  • More trade;
  • Scrap the expensive monthly trek to Strasbourg;
  • Less red tape for small businesses.
Those are all sensible reforms, but isn't there a bit of vision lacking in the answer to these two questions? They were asking different things, but in at least one of the answers there should have been room for a bit of vision.

Could not Nick have talked about further expanding the EU or further entrenching European values? About greater co-operation or understanding between nations. About anything a little less technocratic?

This is not just a criticism of Nick. It is typical of the debate on British membership of the EU that those in favour of our continued membership should unable to offer moving arguments in favour of it. The same is true of those who defend the United Kingdom in the debate over Scottish independence.

In both the debates the chief tactic of the status quo has been to co-opt the heads of big companies to say they are opposed to change.

Prosperity matters, but this comes dangerously close to the argument: "A lot of very important people believe we should not change, who are you to disagree?" And that is not an argument any Liberal should entertain, nor one likely to prove persuasive in an age when so many are disaffected with their leaders.

Besides, it is obvious that an independent Scotland would be able to survive quite comfortably outside the United Kingdom, as would the UK outside the EU.

Arguing in favour of the status quo may inevitably make it harder to arouse the passions, but we badly need more positive arguments than we are hearing at the moment.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

1 comment:

Phil Banting said...

I really hoped that the Nick v Nigel debates would shed more light than heat but the second one in particular was deeply disappointing. Lots of argument about how many UK laws originate in "Brussels", but no actual examples of such laws, nor consideration of whether or not they are beneficial.

Pooling resources for mutual benefit is a familiar and attractive concept at individual and community level, yet it seems a much harder "sell" when applied to groups of nations. We have to be honest enough to admit that there are losses as well as gains and be prepared to argue the case on grounds of principle as well as practical benefits.