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The EU Referendum: Beware the Lure of a Scapegoat

15/06/2016 09:26 | Updated 15 June 2016

There can be no doubt that things that are not right. Our public services are not serving the public, our health system is creaking, our economy seems to have forgotten about the importance of creating things (other than City bonuses) and it is easier to explain the rules of cricket to an EU immigrant than it is to explain the chaos that is our state-funded (but not state-managed) education system.

Indeed, democracy itself, in this nation that prides itself on being the 'mother of parliaments' can hardly be said to be in great shape given that there is no mainstream party that seems capable of representing the views of the majority of the people. Rather we are told that 'there is no alternative' but to accept one or other marginally different version of a something now called 'free-market democracy' i.e. democracy that is subject to the will not of the people but of the free market, whatever that is.

To cap it all, the Russians are about to invade and all around us are terrorists who want to destroy our way of life and our values (apparently).

In times such as this it is easy to reach for a scapegoat. Indeed, for many politicians it is essential that we do so lest we arrive at the uncomfortable conclusion that the real people responsible for the state of the nation are those we have elected in the expectation that they will assume this responsibility.
But before you reach for a scapegoat, there are two things to consider. First, you need to be mindful that the history of scapegoating is not a glorious one. 'Great nations' rarely become great by scapegoating other nations or people. They might invade them, plunder their resources and turn their population into slaves - but that is another matter. The path that leads to 'greatness' - be that for a nation or a person, rarely involves a bit of scapegoating on the side.

Second, if you are going to blame someone or something (which is what scapegoating involves) you need to be pretty damn sure that they are primarily responsible for what it is you are blaming them with.
And so to the scapegoat of the moment: the EU - and also for the less politically correct that time-honoured scapegoat, the immigrant.

Did the EU create our unbalanced economy? No it didn't. Successive Governments in this country are entirely responsible for abandoning investment in productive capacity in favour of a view that wealth is best created by speculating in financial markets and selling what productive capacity we have to overseas companies or governments. The Germans seemed to have managed to continue to make and export things while being part of the EU.

Is our economy labouring under the burden of massive EU regulation and can thus be expected to leap forward once unshackled? No. Our economy is no more heavily regulated than almost all developed nations. The less regulated economies tend to be those of the less-developed nations and this lack of regulation mostly serves to allow the rich in those economies exploit the poor. Again, I would refer you to the Germans (they seem to have done alright).

Is immigration causing an unacceptable strain on our public services? No. The fact that in places our public services might be coming under strain because of immigration is a result of the fact that we have under-invested and poorly-managed our public services for decades. To blame immigration is to confuse symptoms with causes.

Is the housing crisis caused by immigrants. No - it is caused by the fact that successive governments have abandoned the idea of either building, or supporting the building of, sufficient numbers of houses, combined with price increases driven by this scarcity, speculation in housing stock and the fact that governments have pulled the rug from under the rented sector - both private and public.

And then there is the thorny issue of sovereignty and this idea of 'taking back control'. It is true; the last 30 years have seen a massive transfer of sovereignty away from democratically elected governments. But the EU has nothing to do with this. This sovereignty hasn't gone to Brussels, it has gone to globalised 'free' markets, or more precisely to those who control (rig) or benefit from the operation of such markets, which in most instances have become little more that frameworks that allow for the enhancement of the interests of the most wealthy and powerful in society.

The EU is the institution that more than any other proves that cooperation beats competition - one of the reason that the prophets of the free market hate it so much. There is not a single country that has suffered as a result of EU membership and there is no reason to believe that this is going to change. However, if you genuinely believe that the future for this country will be better if we are on our own, competing with trading bocks that are many times bigger than us - then vote Leave. If you are happy to embrace the idea that you can't trust experts but you can trust Boris Johnson - then vote Leave. But don't vote Leave because you have fallen for the lure of a scapegoat.

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