There is no justification for the belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic process, it cannot be arbitrary
– Friedrich A Hayek (the late Austrian-British economist and liberal thinker).
So, is the European Union a good or a bad thing? To quote the great Kenny Dalglish: 'Maybe's aye and maybe's naw'. And who says that is like the Labour Party on Brexit? Dalglish was quite correct (though not the Labour Party); some things are indeterminate and do not yield precise answers – like the universe itself, for example.
The complexity of the interwoven strands that comprise the European Union makes understanding the workings of the universe child's play; except that child's play, with its gaming apps and all, is so multi-various and complex that no adult could possibly comprehend it.
But back to the European Union: some countries have gained considerably from the Union; the nations of Eastern Europe, once all part of the all-absorbing Soviet Union, have all gained financially, as well as socially and psychologically, from the greater freedom they now enjoy. They would have gained that anyway – to an extent; however, being in the EU has encouraged more Western companies to invest in them and opened up the West to their goods. Some Western companies have suffered as a result of this last effect, as much cheaper Eastern European products have considerably dented their market share.
In a similar vein, there was the opening up of the Western labour markets to the indigenous impoverished of Eastern Europe, who took on jobs in the West, frequently under poor conditions and with such prerequisites as made the work impossible to take on by the local peoples of the area.
The rule of vice-versa has also applied; Western companies, particularly the bigger ones, have gained from the opening up of new markets and by the influx of cheap labour. And there is little to hinder multi-national concerns from expanding their markets and presence in an almost borderless European Union. In particular, finance has flowed freely between countries; to such an extent that a common currency has been developed to expedite matters.
But the Euro is, in essence, the German Mark in all but name.
Germany is one country that has positively gained from the European Union (and it is much helped by not having to spend huge sums on armaments) as well as the Eastern nations; France is another; with Greece, Portugal, Spain and even Ireland, the situation is less clear. And with Great Britain, the results have been patchy.
The south-east of England and the south in general have prospered; Edinburgh, with its foothold in the financial market, has also fared well; Aberdeen and its surrounds, with oil, have done well, but because it also has a tentative toe in financial matters. Other areas, as witness the growth of food banks and those living on social benefits, have struggled. Not that the EU is totally responsible, but it does play its part; just as it has played some part in the privatisation of the Post Office and the break-up of the railway system, which now means that if you step on a train at Inverness and travel to Glasgow, part of your fare goes to Holland.
The EU is, after all, driven and guided by big business. Ultimately, big business will encourage the growth of a European super state similar in style to the good ol' US of A. It may never quite come to the full extent of that as there are too many competing interests amongst the countries of Europe, but the support of big business is largely universal amongst them. And what that does give the pro-European camp (almost by default) is control of large sections of the media. Anybody who takes up a pro-Brexit stance is, almost automatically, vilified as narrow-minded, xenophobic and even racist.
The other powerful message generated is that to oppose the present set-up is to be anti-European. This is simply not so; Europe has come through some absurd times from the Dark Ages onwards; there has been almost continuous warfare fought on the continent for well over 1,000 years – since the fall of the Roman empire in fact. An integrated Europe, where we are all bound to each other through both common sense and the common tree trunk of trade, does eliminate the possibility of hostilities (which is why we should be stretching out more to Mother Russia – ah, but we are doing so behind the scenes). Surely we all understand the stupidity of war and that Europe need fear no further fighting amongst itself?
However, do we need the paraphernalia of a common Parliament and common laws to bind ourselves? And these laws are made by a centralising body consisting mainly of a powerful technocratic elite. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has been the subject of fairly secretive negotiations between the EU technocrats and the United States; this despite the fact that its adoption could have (will have) profound and significant changes to our way of life involving our National Health Service, our unions and our law systems.
Curiously, the SNP are pro-EU and this despite the many arguments they use against being part of the larger organisation of the UK Ltd being replicated by the Brexit Party as part of their own arguments against the EU. Alex Salmond, in his sucking up to big business interests, started the SNP down that route – but the European Union has changed since then; even talking of a European Union Army.
Boris Johnson's shenanigans with Parliament being rightly found illegal settles the question of who has the more right to govern Britain – the Government or Parliament? The justices found clearly that the Government are answerable to the Parliament: but hold on; is not the Parliament answerable to the people? And we, the people, voted substantially to leave the EU; is Parliament not acting illegally by not carrying out our wishes?
Moot point, but if we were ever to leave the EU what would we lose? Scotland's largest market (by far) would still be the rest of the UK; our oil would still be sought after as would our whisky (now selling into China).
Yes, we would lose something and, short-term, jobs would be lost. Longer term – well, that would be up to us.
Bill Paterson is a writer based in Glasgow