As the referendum draws near and debate increases, the natures of the campaigns have become apparent. Some minds were made up before in either side of the fence. Some are confused, some are neutral.
Any academic piece will give the opportunity for the reader to decide any potential for bias. This can come from declaration of interests to any sources of funding to assumptions chosen to be made or not to be made. Some elements of potential bias may require further research. In any piece, the reader may have a different perspective.
Readers of this site will note the lack of the word ‘I’ in any article so far. On this occasion, a brief history may allow the reader to identify bias.
My research into the EU started as a teacher of Economics around the time of the Maastricht Treaty. A personal view was that in order to make my subject relevant to students, the real world should be incorporated as much as possible, hence visits to the Stock Exchange, Bank of England, House of Commons, factories and power stations were a regular feature.
Research was channelled on behalf of the students. Where the Chancellor at the time confessed to not having read the Maastricht Treaty, my students had photocopied paragraphs and protocols from both Maastricht and the Treaty of Rome. I like to think that Common Agriculture Policy brought to life Mordechai Ezekiel’s Cobweb Theorem, just as one example.
My own research led me to appreciate the significant change in reach from what is now called the EU. My own feeling was that this was a matter for the British people to decide, that we should all have a right to understand. I campaigned for a referendum.
As a teacher, arguments were presented from both sides. My teaching philosophy was to help students understand and use the tools to formulate their own opinions and present their own arguments. Most important was encouraging the ability to question.
As for the outcome of any referendum, my view was neutral, that we needed a broader education of the public to understand and vote for the future direction of their government. Very few arguments, particularly in democracy, let alone economics, are clear cut. We should make our minds up after listening to the arguments.
Here we are in 2016, the referendum is imminent. The debate has begun.
Most of us probably use the same sources for information. TV provides us with headlines, sound bites and now debate. Twitter allows MPs to give 140 character (plus attachments) arguments. Newspapers are accessible on line as are blogs and other opinionated web sites.
At this point, my own recommendation is to trawl Parliament TV. A fantastic source is Select Committee meetings. Politicians of varying opinions from each party can grill an expert or government minister (some ministers can also be expert) intensively, sometimes helpfully, sometimes rudely. For the diehard, much of the material that experts bring can be a catalyst for more research.
Back to the debate, the electoral commission has decided in its wisdom that the campaigns be fronted by 2 Conservatives, both Old Etonians, both Oxford scholars. If this article does anything for you, I hope it will be to question the sources of information presented and listen to the supporting casts.
Cameron had a head start. He has framed much of the way the debate is run. He told us we would have the opportunity to vote to Remain in or Leave a “reformed” EU. Those reforms amounted to some tinkering with welfare for migrants, yet to be ratified by the rest of Europe.
Project Fear emerged. Everything that could go wrong would go wrong. The Leave campaign can not tell us what “out” looks like. The economic experts all tell us we will suffer. Issues like migration are sidestepped. Those who are sceptic are “little Englanders”. Let’s look at those in reverse order.
To those of us who have a global outlook, the “little Englanders” is something of an insult. Branches of my family have moved to Spain, Hong Kong and the USA. My favourite birthday treat reflects Irish Industrial Revolution migration combined with Jewish capitalists, fish and chips. Friends come from all parts of the voluntary Commonwealth as well as the EU. Don’t patronise us, Dave.
The economic experts have been covered to an extent here. In short, the central reports are from the Treasury. These have been dissected by or presented too late for consideration by the Treasury Select Committee. The incestuous nature of the relevant expert bodies is apparent if people are prepared to look. One piece of work is cited by another, then another. A body of “evidence” emerges. The evidence is unreliable.
Forgive me but I thought this was a referendum about whether we should remain in the EU or leave. I thought that if we had a democratically elected government, they would shape what ‘out’ looks like.
There are some questions back, Dave. What does “in” look like? What is the direction of EU reform? Will the 2020 election produce a free market government, a protectionist government or anywhere in between? Without knowing which governments we have, we face a lifetime of uncertainty. Don’t divert the question and reply with your tired script, provide answers please, even if the answer is “don’t know”.
Dave may claim that he wants a “strong Britain in Europe” so we can expect a change of leadership after the referendum, given his capitulation over “reform”.
There is work to be done to give a positive message if Remain is to ensure a majority. Have Leave done enough?
The campaign leadership was decided by the Electoral Commission. The leader had ostensibly not decided on his position until the last minute. Johnson is not necessarily the next Prime Minister in the event of Brexit.
There are a variety of views about what “out” looks like. What we know is that it depends on the government of the day. We also know that it depends on how resolute that government is in its negotiations.
We may be able to strike our own trade deals, they may or may not maintain free movement, therefore unrestricted immigration from the EU. We do know that we have a choice from what is currently a small list of political parties in future elections. We will be able to tell the government what we want through the ballot box.
There are a number of questions without answers. Leave are not in a position to answer with authority. We therefore face a simple choice between Project Fear and Project Freedom.
This is not the forum to list every single argument. That has been done elsewhere, some hyperlinks being within this text, some of those leading to more hyperlinks. There are however some basic principles.
For Remain, we have a devil we know. We know that devil intends to extend its doctrine. We can judge whether Britain has the capacity to be a force against that devil given the competences that the EU controls and our relative democratic strength within the EU.
We can identify those elements of the debate important to us. Depending on where our employer trades, we can legitimately have a range of opinion. That is what a democratic referendum is for.
For ‘out’, we have the devil we don’t know. Overcoming this devil depends on faith, our own faith that returns sovereignty and faith that we have the ability to thrive with a global perspective.
It is a sad reflection that the dominating view at the moment might be based on trust. Remain have woven a tissue of questionable evidence. This is reinforced by MPs on Twitter, openly making representations that when researched prove to be false at worst and half truths at best.
Yes, claims from Leave can be questioned. We can make our own judgements on what sort of deal a trade deficit of £80billion or so give us. We can wade through the arguments about £350 million per week or a lower figure.
What has helped to make up my mind is not the bluster of a Boris or the chicanery of Cameron and Osborne but some of those obscure figures giving evidence to select committees. We have the radical thought, agree with him or not, of Patrick Minford. We have the quietly spoken, intensely thoughtful and magnanimous Martin Taylor and Richard Sharp. We have the people to deal with anything in so many walks of life.
British democracy is a gem. Select Committees give us transparency that the EU does not. Britain has given democracy to much of the world. We may be stifled by the EU but have much still to share with the world and the rest of the world with us.
To conclude with the question of bias, I confess to a bias forming. This can perhaps be summarised by, of all things, a variety of British winning Eurovision song titles. Do we wish to remain as a “Puppet on a String”? Is the “Boom Bang-a-Bang” a barrage of incoming artillery or a firework celebration? It is time for “Making Your Mind Up”.
Personally, I always had a thing for Lulu.