Referendum Wake-Up Call

Leave campaigner Emrys Roberts argues for a fundamental change of direction following Brexit.

As someone who advocated a Leave vote I was pleased with the result.  I was most disappointed, however, at the superficiality of both campaigns.  One would have thought the choice was between a simplistic international outlook on the one hand and an isolationist one on the other.  There was virtually no discussion of the purpose and role of the EU and no consideration of a progressive alternative.

I voted Leave because the EU is fundamentally a vehicle for promoting global capitalism, allies itself with the jingoism of NATO and has scant regard for democracy or the well-being of local communities (witness its treatment of Greece)  – though it manages to fool people on this point by throwing us a few scraps from the capitalist table.  There is a compelling case to be made against the EU, but progressives let the political right frame the debate.  We have let the electorate down.

It saddens me that so little attention was given to vitally important issues.  All sides have accepted the establishment view that the EU and NATO are a force for peace in the world, even though this view flies completely in the face of the evidence.  NATO nearly started World War III some 50 year ago by planning to encircle the USSR with nuclear weapon bases.  It was only when Kruschev threatened to use Cuba to give the US a taste of their own medicine that they backed off.

When the Warsaw Pact was terminated NATO rejected a proposal for a pan-European peace agreement, preferring to regard Russia as a potential threat in accordance with the Wolfowitz doctrine which declares that nothing must threaten US global domination.  More recently, following popular demonstrations, President Putin persuaded the President of Ukraine to call a General Election.  Before it could be held, however, the EU and NATO supported a military coup by fascist gangs who flew swastikas in the centre of Kiev and gave pride of place to a huge picture of the Ukrainian leader who had formed SS battalions to help the Nazis in the second World War.  When a counter demonstration was mounted in Odessa, fascist gangs from Kiev herded the demonstrators into an empty building and set it alight, clubbing to death people who tried to escape by jumping out of the windows.  Surely the more progressive parties should have made the public aware of the kind of militarism we would be signing up to by remaining in the EU?

EU expansion & trade with the US
In the same way a very important aspect of new countries joining the EU was completely overlooked.  There was plenty of discussion about immigration, of course, but what about future regional development funds?  No doubt the largely poor new member states will make a convincing case for such funding – quite probably at a significant cost to Wales once the present round of funding is complete.

Also ignored was the probable effect of the proposed EU trade agreement with the US.  This will open the doors to the under-cutting of local employers by US big business, who will no doubt increase their costs once the competition had been seen off.  Even if we wanted to renationalise some industries or prevent the privatisation of the NHS, under the proposed agreement we could be sued for huge compensation sums by private companies – and any arbitration would be conducted by big business representatives to the exclusion of democratic representatives.  This would be a huge blow to both our democracy and our economic well-being.  Neither I nor anyone else can predict precisely what will happen, but in my judgement with all these developments around the corner and without the means to take measures to withstand them, staying in the EU would be far more of a “leap in the dark” than pulling out!

Reaction to the Result
The reaction of many Remain supporters to the result has been completely superficial, assuming that all Leave supporters are xenophobic.  We are told that Remain was strong amongst the better educated and therefore, by implication, the more intelligent.  Such an assumption is spurious.  It more likely signifies that the better educated are more likely to have well-paid jobs and can therefore adopt an “I’m alright Jack” attitude.  Many now want to “Save Democracy” by ignoring the will of the people.  Like Tony Blair – and Henry Ford of Black Car fame – , they think democracy means allowing people to vote the way they like provided they agree with them.  But then, this is EU democracy par excellence, of course!

Labour MPs want to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn as leader for not being able to persuade Labour voters to vote against their own judgement!  I take the opposite view – that he did not listen enough to the concerns of his natural supporters in deciding what stance to take.  He ended up implying that we would have to depend on the EU with all its right wing governments to safeguard workers’ and other rights – apparently having given up on the idea of persuading UK voters to do so.

If progressive parties had stood by their principles rather than accepting “Tina” – Margaret Thatcher’s neo-liberal mantra that There Is No Alternative to global capitalism – think what a position of strength they would have been in today.  By leading the Leave campaign they would not have lost votes to UKIP, which only prospered because so many people felt that no one else was listening to their concerns.  It is entirely possible that if Corbyn had taken such a stance and with the Tory party in such disarray, Labour could have won the next general election and Plaid Cymru’s standing in Wales would have been greatly enhanced.

What Now?
Having said all that, looking forward is now more important than raking over the past.

We need a fundamental change of direction.  In a capitalist system money controls the lives of people irrespective of the harm it might do to individuals or society.  In a more progressive society the people should be able to control money to enhance their own personal lives and that of their community.

Global capitalism benefits only a very small elite but in the process dehumanises both them and the rest of us and contributes hugely to the degradation of our natural environment, eg by the transportation  – often half way round the world – of food and goods that should be produced locally.

Globalisation will also lead to the homogenisation of society as we become undifferentiated consumer units to feed capitalist expansion.  We can already see this happening in our High Streets and Shopping Sheds .  Up and down the country, and in many places abroad, one sees the same old outlets selling the same produce.

The same kind of development is taking place in society as well.  The notion that in the long term under this system we shall be able to maintain our individuality, the distinctive features of our society and our national identity is merely wishful thinking.

It is bound in time to lead not to a multi-cultural society but a mono-cultural one.  Our future – indeed the planet’s future – depends on rediscovering the teachings of Leopold Kohr who maintained that “Small is beautiful”.

We need to move on from a representative democracy to a participative democracy.  Under the former system we do little more than appoint a government that can do virtually what it likes whatever promises it might have made.  In large units, such a system inevitably leaves very many people alienated, even disenfranchised as many Remain supporters – and indeed substantial majorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland – feel today.  Its only saving grace is that we can change the government at the next election – probably leading to a large phalanx of other disaffected voters!  Participatory democracy means people not only electing leaders but also discussing and helping to determine the policies they pursue and even getting involved in their own locality – perhaps helping to run co-operative ventures of their own.  It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to operate such a system in a large unit as decision-making is so remote.

This does not mean that we should be isolationist in any way.  Cultural intercourse must be encouraged to develop a greater understanding of each other at both the individual and national level.  It does not mean either that we should not welcome immigrants – but with an important proviso, that if they wish to live in our community they should respect its ways, its traditions and its language.  I do not believe that a significant number of people in these islands are racist, but in England they are just beginning to experience what we have known for well over 100 years in Wales, people settling among us who want to change our customs and traditions and even our language – and it hurts!  If immigrants respect us and our society, most of us will respect them in return.

Keeping the Peace
And what about keeping the peace in these troubled times? you may ask.  The only way to do that on a permanent basis is to strengthen the United Nations.  It is weak at present because big powers, like the US, Russia, China and NATO have their own armies and arsenals and ignore the wishes of the United Nations unless it agrees with them.  The UN must be revamped to represent the nations of the world rather than state governments.  The Security Council veto should be abolished and the UN alone should have armed forces at its disposal and arbitrate in international disputes.

Yes of course, that day is a long way off.  The UK exiting the EU will not make a significant impact, certainly not if some of the unsavoury characters prominent in the Leave campaign get to hold positions of power in London.  However, remaining part of the EU – ruled as it largely is by remote bureaucrats in the interests of global capitalism and US style militarism – can only delay any attempt to build a better world, which is why people of a more progressive persuasion must rise to the challenge of showing that we do not have to be enslaved by global capitalism, that “TINA” was a con and that it is possible to build a more peaceable and a more socially and economically equitable society.

Emrys Roberts is the former General Secretary of Plaid Cymru.

5 thoughts on “Referendum Wake-Up Call

  1. I fail to see very much coherence in this writers arguments, first he´s in favour of Russia, a massive oppressive centralised state, later he calls for extensive devolved direct democracy. And to cap it all, this former PC official writes, ¨… Labour could have won the next general election and Plaid Cymru’s standing in Wales would have been greatly enhanced.¨ How on earth are Labour gains supposed to enhance PC´s prospects? And how is any of this going to benefit Wales´ survival as a distinct social, cultural and linguistic nation?

  2. Stirring stuff from Emrys – indeed i was expecting him to launch into the ‘internationale’ half way through. But im afraid i have some grim news for him – the vote to leave europe on june 23rd has in no way slowed the march of global capitalism or checked the hawkishness of nato. Indeed the first significant post brexit political act of the british government has been to bring forward plans to replace trident with a vote in Parliament on 18th July – so no signs of any brexit ‘peace dividend’ emrys! While the tory right are gleefully drawing up plans to dismantle employment and environmental protection brought into effect in the uk as a result of eu membership.

    As a former leading figure in plaid cymru emrys will no doubt be as concerned as i am about where the brexit vote leaves wales, and it has to be said the early signs are not encouraging. Given the instant backtracking on the promises of an extra 350 million a week for the nhs from leave campaigners can we really trust the same people to make good on their promises that westminister would compensate us for the loss of eu funds to wales?

    Similarly what about the potentially enormous losses to the welsh economy if the new british PM cannot agree a deal which affords access to the eu single market? We can be sure of one thing – that whatever various figures in the british governemt are saying in public the economic needs of wales will not figure remotely in the new Tory PM’s brexit negotiations with the eu.

    Maybe it’s because of very legitimate fears like this that one recent poll showed that 35 percent of people in wales would support an independent wales rejoining the EU! Very sad to see then that a former general secretary of plaid cymru would seemingly be opposed to such a development.

  3. Leigh Richards might also have mentioned that the British government is supporting NATO in sending more troops to the Baltic states shortly after Brexit. The leaders of France and Germany, Chirac and Schroder opposed the Iraq war while the UK followed on US coat-tails. If we want to oppose American adventurism, making common cause with Europeans would be a good way to do it. Moreover Emrys Roberts has apparently not noticed the collapse of any support for or public confidence in socialism as an economic system following the failure of the Soviet Union. There is no current alternative to capitalism and the live question is whether it is of the unrestrained neo-liberal variety or the governed and moderated sort that European social democracy and even Christian democracy achieved. As for participatory democracy, we have an uninterested electorate who can barely bother to vote for elected representatives. Who is going to persuade them to give up their spare time to discuss public affairs? Mr Roberts is in a world of his own.

  4. Like the writer,I also campaigned & voted for “Leave ” in the recent referendum.
    We now have a new Prime Minister shortly to form a Government .It is allowed just less than four years to fix the “leave ” for which we voted!
    If the job is not done to our satisfaction we can chuck them out at the next general election.
    I am happy !
    Peter Davies

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