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Dull ramble about the European Constitution [Aug. 2nd, 2004|02:39 pm]
I think elections are about three things. There are other ways of dividing them up, but this makes sense to me.


1) The past - Whatever the parties might set out in an election manifesto, it is fairly clear that a large part of individuals' voting decisions is played by the concept of an election as a referendum on the record of the incumbent party.

2) The present - At the same time, elections are obviously a choice between different alternatives, the programme put forward in a manifesto, the leadership team of the chosen party, and what they have to say about the key issues of the day.

3) The future - A manifesto exists only as a guideline document - in no modern political set-up is it considered binding, and a leadership team is transient. People need a feel for the party they are going to support, and a notion of how they are going to act in situations as yet unforeseen - to whom will they turn for advice? What considerations will be foremost in their minds?


The European Constitution referendum will be similar to this, I think most referendums are, when they are on 'big picture' issues. The question is, which will predominate, and how would someone with my point of view vote?

1) I am largely sceptical about the benefits which have been brought to the UK by membership of the EEC/EC/EU. Broadly, I think there have been social gains, and economic losses. That these are not inextricably bound up with membership is demonstrated by the Scandinavian countries, varying in wealth irrespective of membership or not, and with progressive social and environmental legislation before EU membership. In that sense our EU membership may have tamed the rougher edges of Thatcherism, but if the electorate were voting for Thatcher, who are the EU to save us from ourselves?

Not having been of voting age until significantly after 1975, I have never been consulted about our relations with Europe other than via the proxy of a general or European election, neither binding nor specific. In consequence, if the European constitution referendum is a vote on the past, I would be tempted to vote 'no', declaring my ex post facto dissatisfaction with the deal I couldn't express an opinion on, at Maastricht, Tampere, Amsterdam, Nice or what have you.

2) On the other hand, I like a lot of what the constitution actually says (which is not much). On a pure analysis of whether the constitution is better than what goes before it, I would give a qualified yes. It is likely to deliver a slightly more democratic, somewhat more efficient EU. Faint praise, I know.

At the same time, I have problems bringing myself to vote for something which repeats things of which I never originally approved. If I vote yes, am I accepting the clause which states that the Commission can order member states to cut public spending, and force them to keep the reason they are doing so a secret? Or am I merely accepting that it was previously agreed (at Maastricht)?

3) What is inclining me to a 'no' vote is the way in which this has been phrased as a referendum for the future - a once and for all vote on how we relate to our neighbours. Some more Europhile ministers have trumpeted this as an opportunity to 'settle the European question for a generation'. Sorry, but no. If I were inclined to accept that this were a vote on the here and now, you have talked me out of it.

Looking at the way the EU has changed since 1975, and the way the 1975 vote has been used to justify everything for a further 30 years, I am deeply uneasy about handing a 'yes' vote hostage to another 30 years of integration. The constitution is part of the process, not the final settlement. If I am to vote yes to this change, then one basic demand must be that it is about this change, not future changes, and that the next proposal means another referendum on that proposal.