Our Grassroots EU Opportunity – Identity / Politics / psychology
Provided Britain remains in the EU, our current EU support movement presents a great opportunity. All of a sudden the masses have come out! We give thanks to the EU and explain what it means to us, what it has meant for us all these years, what EU has enabled us to do. We have a discussion, an articulation, and we go public with it.
These debates could then be carried into the corridors of the EU and make it an even better version of itself: where discussion happens on questions and issues affecting us, or some of us, in some or in all of our countries – and where then, as a result of this discussion, policies can be made and decisions taken and debated.
Each country a house, with Brussels as our village hall, where we get together and exchange. So it’s not true that each country isn’t independent, because after all each country is a house (so there is control!), but the point of Brussels is that there we have a forum to all gather – to get together on issues affecting all of us, such as human rights, environmental rights, trade , allocation of funding etc. Brussels as a market square because somewhere we need spaces to meet, it’s just like a community needs a community centre. So there’s an extra opportunity there, an additional separation of powers, a chance to not just come together on a national basis, but on an international basis as well.
Why object to this? If councils take away spaces for the community, we are upset and start campaigning for a space for us. So why all of a sudden campaign against our community centre Brussels?
Ok, there are the imperfections, the things that need change: there is a lot of bureaucracy in Brussels, and there even some rules on some issues that don’t make (a lot of) sense. But this is where our opportunity for a grassroots EU comes in as a result of our movement! This opportunity is to reinforce the positives of the EU – the meeting spaces (for trade and for ourselves), the commitment to peace – and then to work on these further. In the words of that old song, we’ve got to accentuate the positive (and eliminate the negative)!
The Background – a ‘psychological assessment’, Identity!
The immediate background to this is now the crisis we are in. And the crisis is the rejection of the bigger picture that we live in, fear that this bigger picture might be too big, or impact adversely on the smaller picture which is the UK. But then this smaller picture can forget or ignore how it’s benefited and is benefitting from the bigger one: misinformation, or lack of information. And so there’s this smaller versus bigger picture thing going on: size, frame, horizon: do you like broadening your horizons or do you like to stay limited?
So it’s fear, mis/lack of information – the perceived adverse effects, such as having to ‘share’ coastlines, are not offset against all the greater benefits of money received from the EU. And then this leads to unwillingness to share.
Secondly, there’s misinterpretation too: some voters equated the EU with capitalism. As if Britain would become a socialist country outside the EU! The vast majority of Brexiters are nowhere near socialist in orientation! And as if capitalism hadn’t caused problems for decades and centuries before the EU.
Thirdly, this is an identity crisis. ‘What is Britishness?’ has popped up as a question before in cultural studies, some sociologists etc, which often was a discussion borrowed from the postcolonial studies debate, with which I am so familiar. Here, identity was always an important question, as people engaged in this debate are used to unjust marginalisation – so it’s a different background to the EU thing but it has great insights about this big question of identity. Postcolonial questions are: ‘what does it mean to be black? Do you identify as Black, British, African, European, or all or some of this, or something else, are you woman first and then black, black first and then woman, or does it depend on the situation? There’s hybridity, the transcultural, there’s bicultural, dual heritage, and all that. There is ‘double consciousness’ a term from early civil rights writer W.E.B. Du Bois, which is useful to this debate, too: applied here it could be that simple truth that you can identify as both British and European.
As a foreigner, familiar too with the whole ‘Where are you from’ scenario, I had always identified closely with the postcolonial debate. The issue of ‘race’ was in there, civil rights and black feminism, otherness and the race/ gender/class matrix. I have also been familiar with the disinterest of many white people in these questions.
Some academics, activists and artists, both black and white, have tried to extend the debate to what Britishness could mean. At this point a crossroads was reached: some arguing for multiculturalism whereas others were bringing back more old-fashioned ‘British’ and ‘English’ exclusivity and with it a pride always bordering on dangerous – as national prides of imperial countries are. Hence people were coming to entirely different conclusions about that identity question, some in keeping with the postcolonial tradition, but others arguing the opposite.
Enter the EU: many of us had taken European-ness for granted, without necessarily making it an explicit identity. But we like travelling, we like our croissants, our paninis, our tzatziki, our pizza, spaghetti and wine and all that, and we like the exchange with people of other countries. We’ve travelled there or settled there, we’ve worked there or studied there. And I am ‘from there’.
Others have received subsidies from the EU for farming or other, but not all were aware of it. And so it happened that quite a few people who got EU subsidies but didn’t know it voted leave. Yet others got stuck on the issue of immigration, seeing it as unfair competition, rather than the indispensible contribution that immigrants make to this country. Immigration was seen as a cultural issue too: immigrants challenge Englishness! (identity again!) As if cultures hadn’t been mixed before! As if colonialism had never happened!
Enters the reverbs of history: the legacy of colonialism upon us all: colonialism had opened up inequality on a world scale, whereby ‘colonies’ overseas were exploited, and wealth accumulated selectively (mainly among the upper classes) in this and in other western European countries. The Cold War also contributed to an impoverishment of the Eastern bloc. Therefore people from such exploited countries (southern, eastern) are now more likely to have to become immigrants. But us western Europeans too often forget these reasons and this history, and so misunderstandings and hatred and ‘vote leave’ arises.
Thing is that voting leave didn’t just hurt immigrants, it hurts this country and its citizens as well, and even more.
These negative consequences are not grasped by many who thought that voting leave was such a macho thing to do. It must have felt so cool to vote ‘I can do things by myself’, I don’t ‘need help’, ‘I want control’: the thought process of ‘help’ being a manipulation of ‘team-work’. What a macho thing to do, to misconstrue actions and relations to be something else so as to dismiss them.
And this misconstruction and manipulation (even if unconsciously) leads leave-voters to overlook that apart from immigrants, imports are at stake, exports are at stake: ie. trade; passports are at stake, ie. visa free travel, the country’s unity with Scotland and Northern Ireland is at stake, the country’s outpost in Gibraltar is at stake, the country’s citizens living abroad, and more.
Much Ado about What?
The tiny majority on whose behalf Theresa May for one seems to want to act, that tiny majority doesn’t exist anymore! So it’s all become absurd! Trying to do Brexit has become much ado about nothing because that little something, that tiny majority, has shifted. So to still try to negotiate a brexit would be much ado about absurdity/nothing.
There are, of course, leave voters who haven’t shifted. And now this is where a debate on the meaning of democracy has to come in: what does it mean now to act democratically? If we, as a country, are ‘split in half’, then which half should be considered? And here’s the heart of the issue, which sounds at first undemocratic but turns out not to be so: we have to consider the ‘Remain’(ing) half, and for these reasons:
. To ensure the unity of the country, to respect Scotland and Northern Ireland,
. To respect Gibraltar
. To respect the Isle of Man (they didn’t have a vote as they are not part of the UK but affiliated to both it and the EU, and therefore implicated in a brexit.
. To ensure the country can continue to maintain itself economically.
. Because leave-voters don’t seem to be able to anticipate the harm they are causing even to themselves: if, in the airports, citizens from Spain to Ireland, from Finland to Romania, Brits could no longer go through visa-free, whereas everyone else (of these 27 countries), then they too will likely find this to be an inconvenient discrimination: at that stage they will then be likely to regret their vote. So it’s back to that first image I gave about being able to see the bigger picture. Leavers will not all disagree with us Remainers in the end, but they might think so now if they can’t picture the enormity of the consequences (the bigger picture) and deprivations they/we will face. Therefore the ability to foresee consequences of actions must be respected over the lack thereof, in the name of our common good.
Leave voters are often patriotic, but what I can see is that they are neglecting their own country, in stopping vital funding for farming and for scientists, and in ignoring the voice of two regions of this country: as if England wants to live on as a separate small country, possibly without London too. So now it’s ironically us Remainers who are more patriotic in a way, because we don’t want this country to go down the drain and break up or down or both.
And don’t forget that Brexit is actually a trick because it hasn’t been named properly: the word ‘Brexit’ has arisen out of ‘Grexit’, and this is where the confusion arises. Grexit referred to the Greece’s danger to leave the Eurozone, whereas Brexit refers to Britian’s idea of leaving the EU! So in the former case we are merely talking about a currency, whereas in the latter case we are talking about leaving the whole of the EU! So that’s a massive difference. The Eurozone and the EU are two very clearly different things: and the EU does not prescribe which currency a country has. Aside from Britain, Denmark and Sweden don’t have the Euro, but they are clearly part of the EU! So a Brexit is much more consequential than a Grexit would ever have been. You can live with your own currency easily but you can’t live so comfortably without a passport that gives you free access to a whole continent and trade.
Brexit is self-harm!
In summary, if you look at the many aspects of the problems of a Brexit, it could well be described as an act of self-harm.
And as a top-up, here’s another simple logic to show how remaining is better for all of us: look at the issue of migration and find that migration will occur no matter whether or not a country is in the EU or not. So the only choice now is this: to accept migration and to have access to the Single Market; or to accept migration and not to have access to the Single Market. Ah, you would go for the option that includes access to the Single Market, wouldn’t you? So keep it as it is, stay in!