Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dancing To Our Own Tune

In yesterday’s Western Daily Press, Veronica Newman of the Campaign for an English Parliament wrote that “One of the arguments often raised against the establishment of an English parliament is that it would be playing into the hands of the European Union… dividing the UK into bite-sized chunks for the delectation of Brussels.”

It’s delightfully refreshing to see English centralists hoist by their own petard, after all these years of telling us that regionalism is a Brussels conspiracy to cut up England. The ‘Euro-plot’ gets waved about like a demonic scarecrow in a bid to deter any rational debate about much-needed constitutional reforms. Those who do so do not see the irony of their position. If to embrace regionalism is to be positively influenced by the continent, then to shun regionalism is to be negatively influenced just as much. Neither extreme allows an independent assessment of the case on its own merits. The fact is that the case for regionalism in England would hold together even if the continent did not exist. It has been talked about and written about in this country since at least Edwardian times. ‘Home Rule’ agitation generally goes back a further century.

That other European countries have decentralised suggests not a conspiracy but a wide measure of open agreement that taking decisions regionally makes sense. If Germany has 16 regional legislatures and Switzerland has 26, this does not appear to have weakened them. On the contrary, it may be one reason why they are more successful than most.

Wessex Regionalists are not fundamentally anti-EU, nor fundamentally pro-EU: we will not be drawn into a beauty contest between the frying pan and the fire. We are against unnecessary centralisation and committed to genuine subsidiarity. By ‘genuine’ we mean a system in which autonomy is always there to be claimed from ‘below’, as of right and without quibbling, not dispensed, grudgingly, from ‘above’.

Our position is one of principle, not expediency. We are happy to explain it but not to alter it. It is what sets us apart from the London parties, whose whole rationale is about deciding what can or cannot ‘safely’ be left to ordinary folk to decide.


Westcountryman said...

Aren't most Wessex men in principle attached to England? I don't think we gain anything by looking too much like we don't much care about England and certainly not by looking like we care just as much, or more, for Brussels.I do not think that crossing the border into Sussex is going into a different country. I do think crossing the channel is going into a different country. A principled, English regionalism and decentralism that wants an organic, unity in diversity in England is certainly my principled position and must surely be the position of anyone who didn't actually either see Wessex as a nation(which is what not caring whether it is ruled by England or the EU is) or as a region of a European nation.

Really you either have to be against the EU ,in its current form and anything like it, or for it. The EU is a quasi-state entity that aims to, and already does, hold great power over the members states and aims to dominate their international relations. It is an enemy to to decentralism. If one doesn't wish to roll it back and to make it one out of many international relationships, and be prepared to leave it if it doesn't like this, then you are very much beholden to it. To claim to not be Europhile in such a context is much the same as the Tory or Lib Dem claim to be localist or the EU's claim to be subsidiarist. It is just a platitude.

That said all this dismissal of regionalism as an EU is silly; the EU doesn't really support regionalism or decentralism! Until perhaps as late as 1888 England was a quite decentralised nation. It didn't perhaps have the regional divisions of pre-revolutionary France, but then it didn't have the strife that was seen in Vendee and other places during that horrible event. We need and should want greater decentralism than England had since long before 1888, but that past decentralism can give us a model of the organic, decentralism vision of a unity in diversity; where the locales and regions are the focus of life, but not at the expense of the unity and identity of England.

David Robins said...

How many times do I have to spell it out? Our loyalty is to Wessex. Not to England. Not to Britain. Not to Europe. If any of these wider entities seeks our goodwill then they must first do something substantial to earn it. To limit Wessex autonomy to that which doesn't endanger the unity of England isn't subsidiarity. In fact, it's no different to limiting the autonomy of the UK to that which doesn't endanger the unity of the EU. The response that England matters more than Europe is subjective: for the city break generation, Europe is a social reality every bit as powerful as England.

I don’t know whether most Wessex men (and what about the women?) are attached to England. Good for them if they are. I do know that cherishing the unity of England above regional autonomy will only entrench the centralist state. We aren’t seeking a decentralised England. We are seeking an autonomous Wessex. It won’t be any less English than Alfred’s kingdom but it will exist on its own terms, not as a bit of something else, even though there will be a number of wider cultural or economic circles of which it is voluntarily a part. None will ‘rule’ it, as you put it. Classical nationalist terminology isn’t helpful in visualising this, which is why we don’t use it.

You yourself are not against the EU. You see it as having a useful, albeit much smaller role. That makes you, in some folk’s eyes, a Europhile. The EU has been the best bogeyman the London regime could have wished for, diverting attention from its own attacks on local autonomy, and whereas every accretion of power to Brussels has been with the consent of the Member States, every accretion of power to Whitehall has been involuntary, the fruits of a despotic ‘Parliamentary sovereignty’. It’s possible that a Wessex regional government, reacting against that tradition, might take a more Eurosceptic line than successive British governments have done but we’ll never know unless we have one.

Westcountryman said...

If your loyalty is to Wessex then you are surely Wessex nationalist in spirit? And why should loyalty to Wessex trump loyalty to Dorset or loyalty to one's locale? And I take it you realise such a position is tactically a mistake as it will annoy most Englishmen and make you look kooky?

One could say loyalty to Wessex or to any territory is subjective by your reasoning. What is not subjective is that most Englishmen have more loyalty to England than their region and a lot more than to Europe. Most Englishmen are eurosceptic. What is also not subjective is the historical and cultural unity and identity of Englishmen and their culture, history and institutions.

I do not think that some desire for English(or British unity but I've largely given up on that.) unity in diversity; as in having some important, but limited, place for a English polity and identity. England is small enough for that I think and presumably you want to do the same with Wessex, unless you have abandoned real decentralism beyond the region, to the county and locale, altogether. There may be a justifiable argument that England is too large for a genuine decentralism. However I do not think it is and I see a role for it as a limited government, representing the shared history, culture and identity of the English with really decentralised regions, counties and locales. By all means I'm willing to listen to detailed arguments about how England could never achieve real decentralism though.

I wouldn't say I was Europhile by my own 'definitions'. My 'definition' maintained that a Eurosceptic may see some limited use for the EU, but must actually be firm with the EU in staying within thes limits, up to and including(and this is important.) being willing to leave it if it doesn't want to stay within these limits. A Eurosceptic must also see the EU as only one among many international relationships. This last point is key, if the EU is our overwhelmingly central international relationship it must perforce become a quasi-state relationship. This is what most marks out the Wessex regionalists, in my experience of conversing with them, as Europhiles.

The EU is no simple bogeyman. It is a terrible organisation and a great threat to Britain, England and decentralism. Sensible, decentralist Englishmen should despise it. However the sort of conspiracy to equate regionalism with it is silly and doesn't take me in for a second. To say the EU gets power by consent(a stock Europhile argument you should avoid if you do not want to be branded as one.) is only partially correct. It gets it by the consent of that corrupt Westminister we both are alienated from and also by strong bonds formed between it and our civil servants and politicians, who form bonds(even organisational links in the case of the civil servants.) and expect pensions and positions from it. Such people are partially its people, so it hardly the open consent of the British and English nation, it is hardly even simply the consent of our parliament and ministers.

The silly thing is that you Wessex regionalists, though better than say the Mercia regionalists who pin neopaganism to their agenda, and though I still consider you one of the better British political parties, seem to have taken upon yourself several positions that are both unnecessary and a liability in terms of electoral tactics. You gain nothing and loose much by switching a vision of a decentralism and regionalised England for a Wessex nation that doesn't even have the guts to seek its destiny on its own. The same is true for the Europhile positions. Have you been taking lessons from the Cornish nats? They do the same sort of stuff. Divisive positions should only be taken cautiously and rarely and only when they very much help to extend and clarify your main vision. You have good ideas, which is the tragedy it would almost be worth trying to form a second regionalist party in Wessex, perhaps linked with the English radical alliance.

Westcountryman said...

The English radical alliance themselves do the same sort of thing with their policy on immigration. Being against mass-immigration and multiculturalism is okay, indeed it is probably best and most in line with the decentralist ethos, but they put their policy in rhetoric that just places it in the grey territory where genuine queries can be made into its savoriness(some on the left will of course call you a racist or xenophobe for belief in anything but open borders and a multiculturalism without a place for Anglo-Saxon cultures and history; I mean reasonable queries but sensible people.).

Why do all the good parties make such silly mistakes?

David Robins said...

I don’t know which Wessex Regionalists you’ve conversed with to get the impression that we’re all Europhiles. We’ve come a long way since Lord Weymouth stood as a ‘Wessex Regionalist & European Federalist’. I’ve said before that we need ‘ever looser union’, not ‘ever closer union’.

Our loyalty is to Wessex because that is the level at which we are organised as a party, which in turn is because Wessex is the level most plainly without institutional representation of any kind. But, again as I’ve said before, we view Wessex as a community of communities – counties and locales must have unfettered discretion to make their own decisions. We’re entirely comfortable with the idea that Wessex consciousness is subjective. We exist to grow the community of Wessex into an undeniable objective reality, not to theorise about its precise relationship to anywhere else.

There’s a saying that a nationalist is a regionalist who means it. Sometimes, it can be quite a fair quip but still we’re not nationalists, and for two reasons.

The first is that, unlike nationalists, we do realise that there are larger communities into which we fit, short of the world as a whole. (To be fair, some nationalists do realise this, including those seeking a Celtic Confederation.) In our case, we’re clearly English and see a role for Wessex within an English Confederation. What we don’t accept is that that would bar us, for example, from building economic links with regions on the other side of the English Channel unless London and Paris had given their permission. You’re right that we shouldn’t see the EU as the only possible frame of reference for external relations but we shouldn’t see the UK in those terms either. A monopoly on foreign policy is one of the most dangerous defining characteristics of any entity because its citizens are then trapped within a single conversation, even one that doesn’t serve their interests.

The second thing about nationalists is that they don’t understand subsidiarity. Nationalism has been as much a centralising as a decentralising force, notably in France, Germany and Italy. Among Celtic nationalists, Plaid Cymru have an admirable commitment to Wales as a community of communities but the Irish experience is sobering. The most repeated victim of the South’s independence has been any genuine form of local government.

You keep returning to ‘tactics’ but we don’t adopt our policies on the basis of tactics, if by that is meant having the same policies that other small parties think will get them somewhere. We adopt the policies that we believe in, those that best describe the Wessex we wish to see. We don’t compromise on that vision.

Westcountryman said...

Okay, when I say you were Europhile, it simply that the couple of Wessex regionalists I have come up against(you and Nick.) are not as hard on the EU as you perhaps should be, indeed sensibly we should be contemptuous about the current EU, and seem to consider our European relations as paramount. That was just my impression.

I understand your position on Wessex and England. What I don't understand is why you'd hold it. It seems like such a fringe(of the fringe.) position. Tactics and principle, for most Wessex men interested in decentralism or regionalism would seem to meet in an attempt at an organically decentralised and regionalised England; a unity in diversity.

You have toned down your language about how much loyalty Wessex should have to England in this reply, but your position still perplexes me, or rather why you hold it. I certainly dissent from your position still. England has an absolute value, in identity and even in polity for me, which Brussels certainly doesn't have. I, if push came to shove I'd choose Wessex and Dorset first, but I still aim for an organic, unity and diversity, regionalism and decentralism in England and perhaps even Britain.

I suppose we'll just have disagree on principle about the relative worth of England and Wessex, but I still maintain that not only is it tactically best to think in terms of an organic, decentralised and regionalised England, but that most Wessex men will see it, based on principle, in such terms.