How to Win a Referendum

193789-boris-johnson-on-a-wireOnly in Britain could  the establishment have ensured that whichever way you decide to vote, they can’t lose the referendum.

Boris Johnson, representing the EU ‘Leave’ campaign, has made much of the 800,000+ German cars he claims are sold in Britain to argue that Germany would not be sufficiently “insane” not to offer post-Brexit Britain a free trade deal with the EU. Leaving aside Mr Johnson’s extravagant language, we may fairly point out that Germany has much more at stake in the EU than car sales to Britain.

Among the 28 current members of the EU we may reasonably surmise that some of them at least (including the ‘usual suspects’ that were early members of EFTA when Britain last thought European Union was a thoroughly ‘bad idea’), would form an orderly queue demanding the same free trade deal with the EU as Britain. The EU cannot afford to offer a facile and generous free trade deal to post-Brexit Britain, because such an agreement would completely undermine the integrity of the EU. The EU will require to establish stern trade barriers with post-Brexit Britain simply to ensure that it saves itself. This is not ‘scaremongering’ (which I deplore), but just basic political realism.

There is another reason that the ‘Leave’ idea that post-Brexit, Britain will simply have attractive free trade agreements with the whole world may reasonably be questioned. All things may be possible, but this we do know: the seductive Boris Johnson proposal is completely disingenuous. How do I know?

Boris Johnson said this about the Scottish independence referendum, and the prospects for Scotland negotiating free-trade simply with our closest neighbour, on 24th November, 2013:

“I don’t think people have woken up to the full lunacy of what is afoot….. As for the Scots — well, I can see the attraction: your own nation, your own government, and the chance to join the ranks of those small and dynamic countries that seem to be happiest and most prosperous. What both sides are forgetting – and they have this in common with divorcing couples – is that it may look OK on day one, but on day two the lawyers come in. There is the division of property to work out, the rights of access to be determined. The longer the marriage has lasted, the more there is to unpick, and the more hellish and self-flayingly painful the whole process becomes….. There are endless opportunities for confusion and bickering.”

“The rights of access”, include, not least access to the rUK market. Johnson was prepared to play ‘hard-ball’ with Scotland over post-independence negotiations with rUK. This was not going to be a smooth transition to open doors, free-trade, and ‘welcome’ Scotland: rUK understands you desire for “control” and “independence”, and to trade freely with England. It was, rather a case of Johnson and Better Together offering the worst scenario of post-Scotland’s Union exit; of penury and ruin as bad as could be imagined, as rUK slammed the door shut in Scotland’s face. This was Better Together’s decisive argument, and it no doubt sent a chill through older, sober, Scottish minds on voting day. Either he was wrong then, or he is wrong now; he cannot have it every way.

Of course it is all different now; but this is Brexit. Different rules apply; no White Paper, no plan, no details; no need. This is Britain, after all; we don’t need to do anthing, or even think. We just need to be British. All we need is fuzzy ideas and fuzzier, comic politicians; a rhetorical appeal to “independence” and to “hope” and to how special we British are; combined with a large dose of cynical, exploitative, propagandist public relations designed to mask the serious break-down in public confidence in British institutions and in the (supposed) neo-liberal consensus that destroyed the financial system and induced a profound public loss of credibility in a broken political system and a decayed and suspect establishment: a false-populism on which the Brexiteers hope to ride to victory under a false flag. Notice that this sense of outrage against neoliberalism has spread round the Western World; unsurprisingly, and at last the neoliberal conventional wisdom has been found out by ordinary people. What ordinary people are finding more difficult is politicians they can trust.

None of this on either referendum side, is the campaign of the actual British people; who have since at least 2007 been conned, ‘mis-sold’, comprehensively ripped-off and cheated by the institutions that are supposed to represent them or serve them. What we have had is the campaign of a two-faced UK establishment that is (ironically, but no surprise) heavily over-represented by the leading lights on both sides in the EU Remain and Leave campaigns.

In Britain, and it could only happen here, only the establishment has ensured that whichever way you decide to vote, the establishment can’t lose the referendum. Their creatures will still be running the institutions, negotiating the treaties and serving the vested interests the establishment represents; interests that will, inevitably and ultimately, serve themselves and exclude the real interests of large numbers of the British people.

Comments (18)

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  1. Mike Edwards says:

    Claiming such certainty about what might or might not be possible regarding post-Brexit trade arrangements is pretty unrealistic. Arguing about trade arrangements is always tailored to suit a particular pisition on the issue. In reality the line of thinking you set out is flawed in a number of respects.

    For a start, Brexit is not a threat to the “European project”. One has to be clear that Brexit is about leaving the EU, not the EuroZone. This point is important becasue last year we had a graphic demonstration of how EuroZone countries are not allowed to threaten the EuroZone project, when Greece was forces to stay in under threat of complete economic collapse (and possibly worse). The UK leaving the EU does not materially threaten the EuroZone project and thus by extension the European project.

    Second, the UK is not comparable to any other EU country in terms if how it might be dealt. In many real and tangible ways the UK still sits at the centre of a global network of power. From our Commonwealth connections and business ties. To our global network of listening stations, shadow banking infrastructure and geographic possessions, the UK’s economic importance and soft power far exceeds any other EU member. Just in terms of intelligence sharing and arms trading (never mind the rest), the EU will have to keep relations open with the UK post-Brexit.

    But really, the whole trade issue is a complete red herring. The corporate world will conspire to create a trading environments that suits there interests – whatever the outcome. Defaulting back to WTO arrangements wouldn’t be that bad for the UK – i thought us progressives hated all the free trade deals that destroyed our manufacturing and labour power! And anyway, it’s regulation compliance tgat really matters regarding EU/UK trade – and we’re already doing this.

    Using Boris quotes is not very helpful either. He was posturing then and he is posturing now. What would actually transpire post-Brexit re trade arrangements would have nothing to do with campaign rhetoric being banded about by Boris.

    Your closing point is important but you use so much space on the trade red herring that you never get round to exploring the real underlying issues, which is a shame.

    If we had another year of this we might started to really get to grips with this trap that has been layed for us.

    1. John S Warren says:

      Your nice distinction between EuroZone and EU has less political substance than the debating point you make of it. You also overestimate Britain’s “soft power”, which under the rhetoric has elements of anachronism which in turn is unlikely to withstand the shocks of real changes in the shifting balance of influence in the modern world. Britain’s “economic importance” is also overestimated; it is striking that as it has become more narrowly reliant on finance and international monetary flows Britain becomes more and more little more than an off-shore super-tax-haven with notably loose standards as its USP (offshore where?); a strange predicament for a country that at the same time claims to be “the centre of a global network of power”; but a position that can be explained a great deal more prosaically and that is a great deal less secure than you seem to think.

      1. Mike Edwards says:

        My point really is that i believe the trade argument is almost too complex to pin down and guessing at how things might transpire is based on making assumptions about far too many unknowns.

        Based on my own research, I think that the Anglo-American deep state is more influential that you give credit.

        I wished we had used this referendum to really highlight and deal with the structural issues that we face, rather than issues that can be argued and manipulated either way.

  2. Farmer fred. says:

    ‘This was Better Together’s decisive argument, and it no doubt sent a chill through older, sober, Scottish minds on voting day. Either he was wrong then, or he is wrong now; he cannot have it every way.’

    Agree entirely, Boris is a hypocrite, and there is zero rational economic argument for Brexit. I mean what idiot would put up trade barriers with their largest market by miles then never the less have to abide by that markets rules anyway if they wanted to trade/ use currency/ have influence over monetary policy (given a shared currency, pegged currency). Mmmmmmm?????

    ‘Of course it is all different now; but this is Brexit. Different rules apply; no White Paper, no plan, no details; no need. This is Britain, after all; we don’t need to do anthing, or even think. We just need to be British. All we need is fuzzy ideas and fuzzier, comic politicians; a rhetorical appeal to “independence” and to “hope” and to how special we British are; combined with a large dose of cynical, exploitative, propagandist public relations designed to mask the serious break-down in public confidence in British institutions and in the (supposed) neo-liberal consensus that destroyed the financial system and induced a profound public loss of credibility in a broken political system and a decayed and suspect establishment: a false-populism on which the Brexiteers hope to ride to victory under a false flag.’

    HAHAHAHA…seriously…I mean…serioulsy!!…you mean that white paper whose only substantive economic policy was to cut corportation tax and turn Scotland into a haven for amazon et al? Not remotely neoliberal. That white paper who maintained oil at 100 dollars (is there a more repacious turbo capitalist industry? That white paper that said pretty much bugger all else apart from waffle?

    Vacuous sloganeering and catch all populism ‘Hope over fear’…or assuming exceptionalism based on ‘different’ ‘national’ values to people a few miles away. Are you seriously saying these were not central to the Yes campaign…

    ahhhhhh deep breathes…hahahaha…hahahahahahahaha…seriously…are you doing this deliberately…is this article a wind up? You do realise people occasionally read this site? I simply do not believe you lack such self awareness. If you do it’s down right disturbing.

    1. John S Warren says:

      I am glad that you “agree entirely” and think I lack “self-awareness” all in four paragraphs. It helps keep me on my toes. You also do hysteria rather well, if I may say, if a tad protracted; but I think you may not be quite so good in recognising irony; but thanks for sharing your laughter.

  3. Monty says:

    Scary thing is Boris is going for the same demographic with the same language, close to word for word in some cases, tactics as the yes campaign in 2014.

  4. Jim Bennett says:

    I am so disappointed that the bulk of the YES movement is using Better Together’s arguements in the EU debate. No irony detected whatsoever in the article above.

    If the UK does vote leave, a job awaits the author in constructing Better Together’s arguments in Scotland’s next referendum.

    s

    1. punklin says:

      The words may be similar but the “arguments” are NOT the same, unless you don’t understand the difference between our relationships with the EU on the one hand and with the UK on the other. I know which I want to remain part of…

      1. David Allan says:

        That’ll be to be part of the Unelected Commissioners EU, with a Parliament where we have 6 representatives and no ability to bring forward legislation .

        Where TTiP awaits rendering future hopes of maintaining public healthcare and water . Where as of 16 April 16 the chance of re-nationalising Scotrail disappeared.

        In the second choice between two futures ? you chose wrong! You chose the elitist self serving EU when previously you voted against the elitist self serving UK.

        Hypocrisy indeeeeeed.

    2. John S Warren says:

      Oops! Clearly my keyboard is suffering from an irony deficiency. I must do something about that; but I think I’ll pass on the Better Together argument deficiency job. It was not only their arguments that were deficient.

  5. Crubag says:

    Except the UK is running a trade deficit with rEU – £13 billion last quarter.

    With the state if the eurozone, you can expect rEU to be keen to keep the doors open.

    1. John S Warren says:

      I do not believe that this overturns my case. There is no doubt that Brexit makes life more challenging for everyone in Europe (including Britain), but that was inevitable given what Britain has done.

      I suspect that many Europeans will not be be surprised (but saddened) if Britain finally turns away; because they know we have never been committed to ‘Europe’; but many Europeans (not least the original ‘six’ members) are sincerely committed to the EU. It is not just free trade to them.

      1. Crubag says:

        Yes, I think making money will trump all of that.

        The true believers at the core probably do still think a single state might happen. The reality is 28, mostly American-speaking states, who think NATO is the ticket.

        The single state isn’t going to happen, despite or because of things like the euro, Schengen, Orban or Turkey.

  6. Sheikh MaBunnet says:

    “actual British people; who have since at least 2007 been conned, ‘mis-sold’, comprehensively ripped-off and cheated by the institutions that are supposed to represent them or serve them.”

    Whoa there John, you’re being EXTREMELY generous there. The most obvious example in recent times is the millions of people who took to the streets ahead of the Iraq war in 2003 and were thoroughly steamrollered by parliament. Earlier instances abound, such as gleefully bounding into a “quick and easy” war in 1914, leading millions to their deaths.

    This conning, mis-selling, ripping-off and cheating is not a new phenomenon; it is the basic modus operandi of the British (née English) Establishment.

    1. Broadbield says:

      Too true. Ever since the Establishment started ceding power (Magna Carta?) they have given just enough, and no more, than is both necessary and essential to keep the plebs in their place and stave off revolution.

      The EU states don’t buy into UK Exceptionalism, so I don’t think the UK will be much missed. Mr Warren’s previous piece described the UK as a “spoiler” (I think), so in some respects the EU will be relieved if Brexit happens.

  7. Andimac says:

    Gaun yersel’, Mr Warren. You don’t have an irony deficiency: it’s some commenters here who have a cognition deficiency. They don’t live in the real U.K. but in Cloud Cuckooland, the one much touted by Johnson, Gove, Farage, et al.

  8. James_Mac says:

    If Scotland votes Remain today it will be almost wholly down to the indy movement. No-one discussed how this could backfire if the UK stays in Europe, which has many of the problems of the UK. Journos/Slab/far-right line of attack is trying to smear the indy movement.

    1. David Allan says:

      The Indy movement smeared itself! (see reply to punklin above)

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