Wednesday, 18 October 2017


It's been a disappointing few weeks, to be honest. My melancholy can be sourced to the countless Yes blogs and twitter accounts that are busily working themselves into a right old fury about the EU. To make matter worse, it seems that reason is in short supply whenever the EU is involved. Debunking one myth only leads to a hundred others resurfacing in a latent anti-EU rage. Most of this anger stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the function and limits of the EU. To add to the mix, however, we have rehashed arguments from the Lexit crowd working in tandem with an almost Orwellian "EU bad" instinct.

I've seen outlandish arguments that Scotland should definitely join EFTA because the EU is "neo liberal". Switzerland may be as much old money as it is nouveau riche but I'm here to report that it is most definitely not a hotbed of radical socialism. After all, a founding member of an organisation called the European Free Trade Association is every bit as likely to be "neo liberal" (whatever that might actually mean) as the European Union. Despite all that, EFTA has an inexplicably high approval rating in the independence movement.

Then there's the old chestnut of Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty.  This one has been debunked by hundreds of twitter accounts and blogs but it just refuses to die.  I'm starting to dream about a post-nuclear landscape with thousands of Scots shuffling around in the freezing cold,  spluttering half-remembered grumbles about the Lisbon Treaty from their melted faces.
Someone please invent digital Domestos to kill wrong-headed ideas stone dead.
Can we do better?  Well, apparently not.  This next one comes from the top, from someone whose job it is to know all this stuff, from someone who knows full well the power of words and their ability to misinform. Why is this important? Well, it's because peaceful political protest is being thwarted by the Spanish government and Angus B MacNeil used that to make a political point rather than to direct genuine concern and anger towards the politicians and institutions that could actually do something about it.
I notice they're not in a jail in the UN or NATO or WTO or OECD or G12.
I'm afraid we're not finished with Angus B MacNeil.  He followed up this with this zinger for the Guinness Book of Stupid.

Make up your own caption please, I'm lost for words.
 Who can forget the good times over at commonspace?  The EU, apparently, risks turning support against itself simply by merely adhering to all of its rules and laws as laid down by its own membership. Just in case we're worried about journalistic credentials, it was written by a self-styled EU guru with a "... good understanding of Europe’s operation, positives, and shortcoming [sic]".  Sadly,  the author didn't have a good understanding of very much at all and proceeded to hack away at the "EU bad" boilerplate with bizarre conflations and confusions of European institutions and the limits of their power.  Is this the best we can expect from digital journalism in the 21st century?   Commonspace has the resources of more journalists than any blog; it can pick and choose its own news agenda; it doesn't have to rush to publication; it has the freedom to publish links and data; it can readily publish corrections.  This is the best it can do?

What has frustrated me most? The lack of nuance; the almost willful disregard for the trade-offs involved; the inability to realise that decisions have consequences both good and bad; a rejection of source documents; ideological knee-jerk winning over the reality of messy compromise that reflects the experience of our very own lives. I'm so completely fed up with this so I'm going to halt my countdown of shame.

This is a tiny blog with a very specific audience who are interested in source documents, complicated arguments, discussions about the relative merits of trade-offs.  If you're reading this blog then you're interested in nuance and debate.  There are, of course, reasons not to join the EU and I'm happy to listen to them because they really exist and I've only thought of a minuscule fraction of them. I've  even posted some of the ones that occurred to me on this very blog.  I'm happy to say that many commenters here have posted their own reasons not to join the EU.  If only the rest of the independence movement was even a tiny bit like that.  They probably are in all sorts of respects but any mention of the EU or Europe seems to trigger a brain melt-down.  "EU bad" is not a valid argument.
I honestly don't know what to say.  The myths spread by the anti-EUers of the left and the right have taken root.  It feels like they've won and no amount of argument can shift that view.  I'm frustrated, I'm disappointed, I'm worried that a groundswell of uninformed opinion is creating an environment where the wrong decisions will be made for all the wrong reasons.

Over and out,


PS I did promise that this blog would follow the emotional rollercoaster of Brexit.  Well, this is the latest update.

PPS I deliberately heightened the drama to make this more fun to read. Everyone likes a bit of drama, right?  I am a little bit fed up, though.


This is wider than I'd ever imagined so I thought I'd start a gallery of the kind of misinformation that is being spread by Yessers.  I can't even be bothered redacting the tweet accounts. I'm not even sure why I bothered in the first place because they are all in the public domain.

Here's the first.  Note the 56 retweets and 66 likes.
66 likes. 58 retweets.  Oh dear.
And another. 
27 retweets. 23 likes. Still early days.

I do know why and I did respond but I suspect his head has already exploded. 

Stay tuned for more.  I need to get back to work now.

It's the weekend now and this one is just too good to miss.  If the EU genuinely intervened to undermine the written constitution of a democratic nation without recourse to democratic accountability, what would you call that?   Answers on a postcard to Mr Malky.

 Well, that escalated fast.
When you run out of arguments just go for an ad hominem attack because that always helps.

Initially, I was just "pious", "peurile" and an "uncritical buffer".  It''s a short step to being a repulsive Nazi enabler.


  1. I think I can understand where people are coming from in this.

    No, don't shout at me, let me explain.

    The EU (in some form or another) has been around all my adult life. For a very good deal of that time the newspapers, tv and often the incumbent party have blamed it for butter mountains, wine lakes, fishing problems, regulations, red tape, 70% of British laws...and so on and so on, and recently, of course, the EU has been blamed for foreigners. (Nothing worse to a little Brit a than a foreigner, except maybe two foreigners, speaking foreign!)

    I've always thought of the EU as bringing a bit of decency and discipline to a country that, frankly, seems to have very little of its own.

    Working time regulations; health and safety... all the sort of decent things seemed to stem from Europe. Maybe they didn't but a rather lazy me assumed that they did. I mean what British government would be happy for there to be a limit on how much time the lower orders could spend at work?

    Somewhere along the way I remember that Spain wasn't allowed to join the EU until Franco bought the farm, and it became a democracy. Certainly we were always led to believe that until Turkey democratised it wouldn't be allowed to join. (Fat chance of that under May's buddy, Erdogan.)

    I don't think I ever really thought about it, (and that is my main point) but I guess I assumed the EU had some role in preserving decency and democratic institutions.

    Very genuinely reading your blog on the subject was what made me see the truth of it.

    Ok, I'm absolutely accepting that Angus Brendon should know the truth, but certainly 'ordinary people', like me, and many Twitterers, probably didn't.

    This is why whenever I've come across an argument... on Twitter, or a blog, I've pointed them in the direction of your two superb articles explaining the realities.

    When I thought about it, after reading your explanations, I realised that, had the EU had that kind of power, there are probably many times that it would have involved itself in the somewhat dubious British democracy, about which I seem to never stop ranting.

    And our policing, or rather, mainly the English policing and prison services, semi or fully privatised as they are, would also have drawn the attention of the EU. And surely the way that the Thatcher government dealt with the miners would have drawn the attention of the powers that be in Brussels. But of course, none of these things did.

    Made to think about it I realise that the EU doesn't have any say at all in law and order or in constitutional matters.

    If it had I'm fairly sure that the utterly undemocratic notions of aristocratic houses and royals with real power, not to mention the royal prerogative delegated to ministers might have found themselves under scrutiny.

    1. There will be no SHOUTING AND LET THAT BE AN END TO IT! Ho ho ho.

      I do understand. People want something to happen and have an expectation that the EU is the default place to ask for help. Emotions around this are heightened because of the obvious parallels with Scotland. I just don't understand the brick wall people construct to stop facts entering their brain. I absolutely don't understand Angus B MacNeil. What is he playing at? Commonspace? Luckily not that many people read the article in question but how did that get published? What standards are applied? Did an editor read that and think it was ready for publication?

      What I really don't understand is the willful inability to debate whenever the EU is mentioned. Perfectly rational and intelligent people seem to lose their good sense and turn into tabloid headline writers. "The EU has failed a moral test", they cry. But what test? Let's construct a valid test for the EU and see if it passed or failed. We really could do that. It wouldn't be hard. Silence. "They should do something", they say. But who is "they"? Which body or individual of the EU should do something? What would they do? More silence. "iScotland should maybe join EFTA". Name just one advantage of EFTA membership. Silence. I think the worst examples are ones where the complicated issue of Catalonia is boiled down to Spain bad/Catalonia good and that we can all act as though binding legal judgement has already been made. This is complex: Spain has a clear constitution that is held in high regard by its population. Catalonia also has a right to seek independence. We all want to solve this but how? Some vague institution or individual at the EU should use the all-conquering powers of a federal super-state, which they definitely have but only ever use for good and are never, ever abused, to intervene. People are actually trying to solve something they liken to fascism with something that sounds eerily like actual fascism.

      The balance of power is a huge issue. It's hugely attractive to imagine that the EU could have intervened in the Ian Tomlinson case and now in Catalonia. On reflection, though, I strongly don't want it to have that power. I think that kind of power would be abused and used for all the wrong reasons. For all its faults, I'd prefer democratic power over constitutional affairs to be closer to the people who are affected by it.

      It goes without saying but I'll say it anyway: none of this is aimed at anyone that reads this blog. Anyone with the stamina for the long-winded posts here is actively seeking out complexity over simplicity.

      Every nation has its own specific democratic problems. The UK certainly has more than its fair share. The EU is a messy compromise that balances all of that. If it went further than it currently does it wouldn't exist because everyone would leave. If it didn't go as far as it currently does it would have even less power to regulate the operation of the single market. The proposal for the EU army is a case in point. It makes complete sense to align foreign policy with trade policy. Military power is one way to do that. The idea of an EU army is not particularly popular because it means ceding some military power to the EU, even though it would bring obvious benefits. Finding a balance, a messy compromise, is what the EU is all about. It is rarely about absolutes.

    2. I remember reading a few articles a few years ago about how the EU put pressure, quiet behind the scenes, on Britain to sort out its democratic imbalances in the 90s. Something about rules being set for ex-USSR countries to meet new democratic standards, standards which Britain did not meet.

      The same stuff speculated that John Major and the Tories deliberately threw the 1997 election in order to get out of implementing the changes required. IE, they allowed Blair to come in and carry out devolution(which the man himself was privately against, mind you) and tinker with the Lords.

      These articles were circulated amongst the online Yes movement and I've never been able to verify those kind of claims. But if others also read them and did not attempt to verify...

      Could explain why some of the Yes movement thinks the EU is more effective/powerful than it actually is. I shall have to look for those articles... won't be easy!

    3. That's a fascinating theory. I've never heard about any of that before.

      It's hard to believe that any party leader would deliberately lose an election. It's also hard to believe that John Major needed to take any specific actions back in 1997 to make sure he lost.

      I would love to find out more about this.

      The mundane answer might be that it's attractive to think the EU has power over the UK government. The right wing complain about the EU's non-existent power and talk it up to make it a thing to complain about. The traditional left (old Labour) talk it up too because they like to claim that the EU stops all their reforms that they'd like to implement but probably don't have the political ability to actually carry out. Maybe Yessers talk it up because they want to believe that somebody can boss Westminster around. That would make them unique in wanting the EU to have power it doesn't have.

    4. I can believe that 'the EU' put some pressure on the UK to reform but not that John Major threw the election. It is nigh in impossible to throw an election in the UK context other than not standing candidates for election.

    5. Yes, Major really had no chance. It's hard to believe now but Blair was incredibly popular before he got elected. Not so hard to believe is that the Tories were incredibly unpopular. Despite everything going on today they're yet to plumb the depths of their unpopularity back in 1997.

    6. I thought it was the Council of Europe that forced the devolution issue rather than the EU.

      Yes, hard though it is to believe Blair was incredibly popular. He seemed to be right for the time...fin de siecle a new beginning a new young, non-grey prime minister.

      Lordy, how wrong we were.

    7. I'm going to try to dig out a reference for the Council of Europe pushing the devolution issue. I always thought it was one of things that was in the air and Blair was just there at the right time to make it happen.

      Could you be thinking about the Human Rights Act? The devolution settlement incorporates the HRA.

      Yes, how wrong we were about Blair. I wonder what we'd think if Iraq and Afghanistan hadn't happened.I think I'd have a more positive view of his time in office.

  2. Oh, I don't buy the notion that Major deliberately let Labour in. For one thing, the Maastricht Treaty was signed on his watch!

    I'm not sure about the other stuff either - I've had a decent look and I can't find it again. However, I was pointed towards the 'principle of subsidarity'.,_annexes_and_declarations_attached_to_the_treaties_of_the_European_Union/Protocols#PROTOCOL_.28No_2.29_ON_THE_APPLICATION_OF_THE_PRINCIPLES_OF_SUBSIDIARITY_AND_PROPORTIONALITY

    It seems to be mainly aimed at EU institutions, but does mention national parliaments.

    Whatever it was, it must have been in the Maastricht Treaty. Somewhere in there:

    Too late to look any further.

    1. Thanks for looking. I haven't found anything either but I'm totally intrigued now.


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