Tag Archives: Britain

Brexit

I was not expecting this result. I’m just stunned.

Congratulations to everyone who made principled, positive arguments for this choice. (No, that isn’t sarcasm, though I’m aware that many people think I’ve just described a null set.) To those who made other arguments, well, you’ve won also; perhaps make more of an effort at inclusion if only to be good sports?

Brexit Referendum, Two Weeks Out

Here we are again. Britain stands upon the brink of a wrenching political realignment, as I watch in fascination. Less than a year ago, it was Scotland voting on whether or not to quit the UK; in another two weeks the (still) whole country will vote on whether or not to quit the European Union.

Fascinating, fascinating. Twitter hashtag #Brexit has become a substantial part of what gets me through the day lately.

I’m not sure what to add, beyond that. One of the things which has struck me is a limited parallel with the civil war inside the Democratic Party. In that context, just as in both British referendums, it seems like the biggest question for me is (or would be) essentially the same. Is trying to reform an existing political institution from within a more promising path to larger societal reforms, or is being part of that institution more of an obstacle?

I don’t think that there is a universal answer. But I’m coming around to think that in the case of the European Union, the existing institution is more of an obstacle.

Full disclosure, I don’t have a vote here, shouldn’t have a vote here, and have not done the fuller research I would regard as necessary if I were voting. (Twitter is for entertainment, everyone knows that, right?) But based on the arguments I have read for and against, I feel increasingly confident that when it comes to the European Union, tearing it down and starting over looks like a more promising route.

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Peak President

The proposal that America fixates too much on the presidency is not exactly new or novel.

It has probably been more than a decade since I began marking midterm elections’ completion by suggesting, sourly, that “it’s so nice this is out of the way, and journalists can devote themselves exclusively to presidential politics once again.” I believe it has been at least a few years since Matthew Yglesias argued—I don’t recall whether it was at Vox or Slate, and in any event it was probably not a totally new suggestion—that liberals in particular have invested too much in pursuit of the White House while neglecting every other component of American government. Earlier this year, Yglesias’s Vox colleague Dylan Matthews wrote an essay suggesting that the eventual outcome of America’s political dysfunction will be neither collapse nor coup but, instead, gradual transformation of the presidency into an “elective dictatorship.” I found Matthews’s scenario quite easy to imagine.

Today, though, it occurred to me that revisiting this issue might permit some fruitful juxtaposition of two or three phenomena that have been bugging me, lately.

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Tories, blue and red

I’m coming around to the suggestion that there is a common weakness at the back of Anglophone labor parties’ concurrent woes. That, i.e., their embrace of a triangulating “third way” approach which abandoned dedicated advocacy of the working class in favor of grabbing “the center” (as defined by the corporate elite) was short-term convenient, but long-term self-annihilation.

This is often called “neoliberalism,” but aside from this having always felt like an intentionally misleading term, it has occurred to me that in practice it basically amounted to trickle-down economics 2.0. In theory, center-left parties continued to advocate government intervention. But from Tony Blair’s “first you need wealth to redistribute” to Bill Clinton’s “it’s the economy stupid,” in practice this easily devolves into “just keep corporate stock values perky and everyone wins.”

That didn’t work. The New Economy has proved to be much like the old economy, a rising tide does not in fact lift all boats, and for labor to share in economic growth it still needs to fight for it via some organized counterweight to corporate solidarity. Union strength having steadily eroded in Anglophone society, that leaves political parties… which have been “consciously uncoupled” from working class advocacy for a generation.

Ooops!

Scotland, continued

The campaign over Scottish independence has continued to fascinate me. It has, I think, become a bit less entertaining as I have found myself taking it more seriously, and I kind of feel bad about that… but, it may not be all bad. It occurs to me that this whole affair has been an extraordinary brain exercise. Most topics of “debate” are familiar enough that I’ve long ago sorted out my opinion. On Scotland, however, I have wavered back and forth repeatedly, as I’ve encountered interesting new arguments and gradually digested them. I sort of feel like we should do things like this, in a general sense, more often, just to keep things a bit more fluid and keep us on our toes, mentally. As for tomorrow’s vote, specifically, well…

I suppose that in the end, my (non-voting) attitude toward this whole affair is resignation toward the impossible paradox that is life.

Having chewed it over, I believe that were I a Scot or anyone else in the UK, Scottish independence absolutely would not be my preference. My own—as ever hypothetical and unasked—preference would be for all of the Yes campaign’s energy to catalyze a nationwide effort to banish the Conservatives, and replace them with a genuinely progressive people’s government.

But of course, that isn’t on the ballot. Scottish independence is, for the reason that it has proved far more exciting than what would, I’m sure, seem too much like ordinary old tedious, futile, politics-as-usual.

I can sympathize with that attitude, yet it’s basically a sympathy of despair. I still don’t know exactly what to think about the actual question of independence itself, as offered to voters tomorrow. Opinions are scrambled up among people I usually respect (which again, is part of what makes all this interesting.) I agree with Prof. Krugman that an independent Scotland continuing to rely on the British pound would be demented. I really don’t know how much that’s a guaranteed outcome of a Yes vote, and how much chance there is that other counsels might prevail in the fluid circumstances of new independence. I think I’m a bit more optimistic than Krugman that the whole project could be worthwhile, at least if Scotland finds a better currency solution.

Yet I’m far, far from joining George Monbiot et al. in believing that the Yes campaign really represents the seed of hope. I don’t buy that this is a rediscovery of imagination. No. Sorry. Again, I think a liberal perspective can sympathize with the Yes campaign to a significant degree… but I don’t think a liberal can actually look at it and see hope. It may well be that Scots have within their grasp a chance To Begin The World Anew… but they have the same as part of Britain. Success isn’t automatic as part of Britain; it won’t be automatic as an independent Scotland. Maybe the odds are better, but even if so that seems to depend on thinking smaller, in a sense, essentially lowering expectations. Thus I look at Scottish independence and see, at best, one more compromised, misguided attempt at making do amid even uglier realities. It might be a worthwhile compromise, but accepting that compromise is certainly not what I would call hope. I would call it despair, or, I suppose, functioning edge-of-despair.

Or, as I’ve come to conclude, “life.”

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Scotland

Yesterday I made Scottish shortbread. I don’t know precisely how Scottish this recipe is, and even if it’s as French as french fries, this is usually about as close as I get to what one might even loosely call “Scottish affairs.” I don’t even have any scotch whisky at present; I enjoy it, certainly, but y’know, austerity and “times being what they are,” etc. Nothing against Scotland, but as a distinct entity (rather than a share of Britain) it’s a bit out of my wheelhouse. Usually.

This year, however, has been a departure from usually, thanks to the approaching referendum on Scotland seceding from the United Kingdom.

I have been absolutely fascinated by this campaign. Despite having never been to Scotland, having no personal connections to Scotland, or any direct stake in the outcome of the vote, let alone a vote of my own. I suppose there are a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s exciting: Re-drawing a map! Splitting a 300-year-old union! Political realignment and international repercussions! “And in English, too,” in the words of The Stranger.

I also feel strong sympathies with elements of the Yes (i.e. pro-independence) campaign. Mixed in among plenty of other motivations, enthusiasm for secession has drawn overtly and significantly on the prospect of what we might call a political “new-borders solution.” Should anyone unfamiliar with British politics read this, very briefly, national government in the UK has mostly alternated between the Conservative Party and Labour Party through the past 100 years or so, but in recent decades support for Conservatives has essentially vanished from Scotland. Like, not even Republicans in California but Republicans in Berkeley, as a comparison. As the Conservative Party currently controls the British parliament despite having negligible support from Scotland, many Scots have asked “why should we remain chained to a polity of significantly different values and beliefs which keeps overruling us in a united winner-take-all government?”

This, I should point out, is a simplification; there are all kinds of caveats and complications just within party politics, never mind the independence campaign as a whole.

That said, this view is definitely a real part of the Yes campaign, and I sympathize with it. I get tired of sharing a government with right-wing voters who regularly overrule my preferences, too. We don’t have quite the same mechanics as the UK, though some times a “winner-takes-all” result can happen anyway. I am certainly not insensitive to the appeal of a “new-borders solution.” (Perhaps you may remember 10 years ago seeing one of various re-drawn maps of North America with the “blue states” appended to Canada…?) Of course, there are various problems here, even from a liberal perspective…

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