‘Believe in Britain’, they say. And why not ‘Believe in Europe’? Grassroots Out have taken to arguing that Brexit isn’t ‘anti-Europe’ at all, rather as if the SNP had presented independence as being pro-British. Confused? The underlying idea is that the EU is not just at present objectively anti-European – in its submissive attitude to others it clearly is – but that it’s also incapable of changing into anything better. The UK can be improved, easily; the EU, never, so let’s not try. That’s more than inconsistent with the facts.
Facts get selected and highlighted to inform perceptions of past and present, and future. British unity is a historical fact, but so too are the Auld Alliance, the Danelaw and the Celtic languages of the Atlantic arc, all of which cut across it. The British royal family is German, the royal motto is written in French, and all our talk of democracy and politics is down to the Greeks. All of that suggests a need for flexibility of thought, but also of political institutions to match it.
Does that mean that there’s a European ‘demos’ in any meaningful sense? If the answer is ‘No’, then the usual suspects are to blame for keeping things strictly inter-governmental and so preventing its formation. Have they ensured that there can never be one? That’s a very different question.
Stresses build solidarity: there was never a time when everyone within the UK felt fine having a British identity but it was made to work by those who feared a worse alternative. In Europe’s case it could be that its puny 19th century nation-states get picked off one by one by the new global players. The demographic squeeze as Third World populations form an ever-expanding proportion of humanity will force closer co-operation because the alternative to Europeans thinking of themselves as one people may be that they cease to exist at all. Always beware the illusion of permanence.
That’s something that also obscures the realisation that a successful campaign for Brexit would only launch in its wake a new campaign for Bre-entry. ‘Remain’ is not as attractive an option as ‘Remain, but’. The unattractive nature of ‘Leave’ is magnified by the fact that ‘Leave, but’ is ruled out. But for how long, and on what humiliating terms might Brexit be reversed?
The UK and the US are two countries separated by a common language: politically the UK has more in common with the European social democracies. Culturally, we perhaps under-estimate the Old World’s shared legacy of experiences like aristocracy, peasantry and buildings over 500 years old. That happens only because we don’t share enough. The more one reads in translation of mainland political theory the more obvious it becomes that importing the minimalist politics of the wild frontier and the big open spaces just because it’s in English can only be damaging to England. The US is not Europe’s enemy but it does need to be understood as a commercial and ideological rival. Are we going to stand up to it all on our own?
Wessex is a European region, as authentic as Normandy, Tuscany or Bavaria. Europe is an idea in the making, despite its growing pains, and so is open to influence. England and Britain are ideas that too often are used to curb our aspirations for self-government and not to nurture them. They shouldn’t be mere glove-puppets for a London-focused regime, but that’s what they’re fastbecoming as regional identity continues to be ridiculed and diminished.
Among our friends and allies in Celtic nationalist parties and in regionalist movements across Europe, the EU is given the benefit of the doubt not from any love of the big but from love of the small, and from the realisation that we cannot work together to cherish the small within a nation-state straitjacket. The idea that we can have the regionalism we want nesting within a retained nation-state framework is refuted by recent history, in which nation-states have frequently done everything they can to destroy the regional identities from which they’re built. Besides, for those whose region sees itself as a nation that cannot thrive under another nation’s yoke, only a European framework will do.
The idea of neat nesting is refuted too on many of Europe’s borders, where authentic regions straddle lines drawn through them by absolute monarchs, sustained by dictators, and enforced today by one-dimensional bullies. France’s borders separate Flanders from Lille, its historic capital, German-speaking Alsace from the rest of Swabia, Savoy and Nice from the rest of Piedmont, Roussillon from the rest of Catalonia and three provinces of the Basque Country from the other four. Not to mention Brittany from Cornwall. Other examples are Tyrol (Austria/Italy), Pomerania (Germany/Poland) and Scania (Denmark/Sweden). It’s by rubbing out those lines that we progress to allowing better choices. If regionalism is about having the flexibility to do things regionally, intricate EU regulations are bad news. But, for some, the news is not as bad as the olds that they’ve lived with for a very long time.
Regions require headroom, which a united Europe governed by subsidiarity provides, and thus there’s no contradiction in demanding both. Our founder, Alexander Thynn, stood as a ‘Wessex Regionalist & European Federalist’ candidate in the first Euro-election in 1979, for the seat of ‘Wessex’ (in reality, not Wessex, just Dorset plus parts of Hants and Wilts). His election leaflet offered a 24-point programme entitled ‘Wessex within a Federal Europe’. In these days of negligible vision, it pays to be reminded of what it said:
“1: The Parliament at Strasbourg should furnish a political platform where the voice of Wessex can be expressed as participating within a Europe of Regions, rather than a Europe of Nations.
2: We should look forward to the emergence of a United Regions of Europe, that might be compared with the United States of America. Wessex will be one of these Regional States.
3: There should be a European Head of State: some much revered elder statesman, to be elected by the Parliament at Strasbourg.
4: All decisions of the European Supreme Court of Justice should be upheld and implemented by the authority of the European Parliament.
5: There should be a gradual transfer of sovereignty from Westminster to Strasbourg in three important spheres:
(a) the control of the armed forces
(b) the control of foreign policy decisions
(c) the control of the economy.
6: The supreme officers within the European High Command should be responsible to Strasbourg, with the entire British armed forces serving under this command.
7: Strasbourg must debate the foreign policies of all Western European nations, so that they can be fully co-ordinated.
8: There should be a European Foreign and Consular Service, responsible only to the Parliament at Strasbourg. This will replace the present national system.
9: Strasbourg must encourage European monetary union, with due regard to the transitional problems that this may involve for the weaker currencies.
10: The Parliament at Strasbourg must furnish Europe with a uniform tax structure (involving income tax, super tax and capital gains tax) applicable at the same levels within all European nations. This will not preclude the right of national or regional governments to raise taxes by additional methods, if they so choose.
11: Wessex and all other regions should receive a substantial tax rebate from such taxation revenue, apportioned in accordance with their per capita and per hectare rating as European Regions. This rebate should be spent as the regional assemblies see fit.
12: Another large portion of all federal taxation revenue should be paid annually into the regional fund at Strasbourg, with a view to effecting a gradual redistribution of capital and social resources over Western Europe at large.
13: A further portion of the federal taxation revenue should go into a European redevelopment fund, with a view to assisting those nations such as Britain with peculiar transitional problems, or generally assisting towards the cost of unifying the nations of our continent.
14: Applications should be made to the European Parliament to shoulder the cost (from out of this redevelopment fund) for changing the British road system from left to right.
15: The cost of linking Britain to France by several bridges and tunnels should also be financed from this fund.
16: The Common Agricultural Policy should be modified so as to ensure efficiency in farming, without destroying the idea that Europe should become agriculturally self-sufficient.
17: The representatives from Wessex should seek to ally themselves with the representatives of those European regions where farming is practised efficiently, asserting our mutual interests against regions where farming is practised inefficiently, or where the interests of agriculture as a whole are subordinated to industrial interests.
18: Strasbourg must co-ordinate and control the scientific and technological research of its member nations, so as to attain maximum efficiency and co-operation.
19: The operation of multinational companies in Europe should be carefully monitored, so as to avoid any upsurge of their influence to a degree that cannot be safely controlled by the elected representatives of the people.
20: Strasbourg must take charge of energy policy within Europe, which should be carefully planned to allow for the situation that will arise after our oil supplies have run out, involving heavy investment in alternative energy research.
21: Strasbourg must take general charge of environment policy, to ensure that national standards are consistently high.
22: The standardisation of weights and measurements according to the European metric system should be pressed forward to its conclusion.
23: A uniform electoral system of proportional representation, with single transferable vote, should be adopted by the Parliament at Strasbourg before the next Euro-elections.
24: Research should be undertaken at Strasbourg for a computerised voting system, for future adoption, whereby the voting strength of each delegate from a regional state is registered automatically within the European Parliament in direct relation to the number of people that the delegate’s party can be shown to represent.”
As with earlier radical causes like Chartism, readers will be able to judge for themselves how much has been achieved, how much would now be modified or discarded, and how much, sadly, remains undone.
The case for regionalism would be the same even if the European mainland wasn’t there. Government that serves us all means getting power, wealth and talent out of London. Set that case in the context of a Europe of regions though and it starts to become a reality, however clunkingly, and however unimaginatively the eurocracy is forced by its Member States to react. Deny that framework and it’s not that the argument dies: it’s that it reverts to being a nice idea that’s obviously right but which London, triumphantly unchallenged by any wider view, will simply never allow to happen. Because the anti-Brussels rhetoric has a clear beneficiary.