Last week, the leader of the Nigel Farage
Party Corporation turned on the SNP, proclaiming that it was impossible for a country to be ‘independent’ whilst also being a member of the EU. As a consequence, he also urged Scottish independentistas to vote for his own Anglo-British nationalist corporation based on the idea that ‘nationalists’ must always support full ‘independence’, and independence for Scotland is something which can be debated after the UK first secures its own ‘independence’ from the EU. It’s not an argument which works for me, and all the evidence suggests that it’s not playing terribly well in Scotland either.
The idea that opting out of the EU is about ‘independence’ has been a consistent theme in his arguments, as with those of other Brexiteers. Whether he’s right or not depends, of course, on how we define ‘independence’. It’s clear, though, that his definition means that he is effectively saying that Germany, France, Ireland etc are not independent countries – his definition is doing a lot of work there. He does tell us something about his definition of ‘independence’, though. He said that, “You cannot be independent if you’re governed from the European court of justice. You cannot be independent if you’re in the EU’s customs union and single market. You cannot be independent if you’re governed by Monsieur Barnier and Mr Juncker”. Like much of what he says, it’s a sweeping statement which appears to be making a simple point, but when analysed it’s full of holes.
· If being subject under treaty to the rulings of a supra-national body means that a country cannot be independent, then how about the UN and its court? Does membership of the UN mean that a country ceases to be independent? If it does, then are there any ‘independent’ countries in the world?
· The customs union and single market are, ultimately, simply arrangements where a group of countries come together to jointly agree a set of rules and jointly negotiate trading arrangements. But, hold on a moment, isn’t that also what his beloved WTO is all about? There might be a difference in terms of the level of detail and complexity covered by the two bodies (a difference which works in our favour as EU members as it happens), but in principle, they’re doing the same sort of thing.
· Are we ‘governed’ by Messieurs Barnier and Juncker? They are influential individuals, of course, but they don’t really constitute a government which can tell the UK what to do. All the rules which they enforce are rules which have been agreed by the governments of the member states, including the UK. I suspect that we could all identify some aspect of the EU which we don’t like, but the blame for that lies with the UK government for signing up to it. It is nonsense to argue that things to which the UK has agreed are being ‘imposed’ upon us by some outside foreign power.
The problem with his simplistic and absolutist definition of independence is that it fails to reflect the interconnected nature of the current world. The major challenges facing humanity cannot be dealt with solely by individual states acting completely alone (although in the case of Farage, some of his comments about climate change suggest that he doesn’t want to face up to them at all); they can only be dealt with if states come together and agree on rules and processes to which all are then bound. That’s not so much about ‘losing independence’ as about sharing and co-operating. ‘Independence’ in the age in which we live simply means that countries take part in such discussions as equals, rather than submitting to the decisions of others. The EU may not be the perfect organisation for taking on the role but getting 28 states aligned through a process of discussion and agreement is a whole lot better than what went before in the world to which Farage seems to want to return. As a Welsh independentista, I’d readily settle for the sort of twenty-first century independence enjoyed by states like Germany or Ireland, engaging with the rest of Europe and the world rather than retreating from it. Farage’s version of ‘independence’ is about taking a trip to the past, not offering a vision for the future.