Like few other nations the people of the British Isles have impacted every corner of the globe. Whilst our copy book is far from blot free, like any colonial power, there is certainly plenty to be proud of.
Besides English being the only true global language, we have taken democracy and the rule of law to the world. England’s own transition to democracy was long and at times bloody one seeing a significant shift in power from the line of kings to the power of the people. Our Magna Carta and Bill of Rights is celebrated the world over.
Over time and often through protests democracy has grown with suffragettes finally bringing women the right to vote in 1928.
Democracy is something that has been defended through two world wars in the face of tyranny and barbarism. It is something that millions of people lay down their lives to defend. Next week thousands will descend upon the killing fields of the Somme in northern France where an estimated 5,500 men of the 36th Ulster division were wounded, killed or missing in the first two days of fighting.
Fast forward 100 years and we are in the grips of a referendum where the key issues seem to be around economic Armageddon on the one side or being overrun by foreigners allegedly stealing our jobs in the other!
It is sad that the issue of democracy has been relegated from the key decision making criteria but it is the issue which should be central to us all. For ideology unchecked by democracy can only lead to catastrophe. After all, we did not go to war in 1939 for economic interests but to defend our freedom.
The European Union has the veneer of democracy as we all vote every five years for our MEPs. But the bodies of the EU are designed in such a way to disguise the lack of democracy at its heart. Our MEPs cannot start or stop any law or regulation in the parliament only suggest amendments.
Whilst in the UK we elect the government on the basis of a manifesto, no such manifesto has ever been put before the people of Europe by the unelected European Commissioners. They are the beating heart of the EU and are responsible for putting forward the policy to the Council of Ministers.
Their ideological pursuit of a United States of Europe and support for the Euro has brought Europe to its knees. In the 1990’s the forerunner to the Euro was the Exchange Rate Mechanism from which the UK spectacularly crashed in 1993 under the premiership of the discredited John Major who now sees fit to lecture us all on the benefits of the EU. The ERM cost the UK an estimated £3.4 billion and saw interest rates jump from 10% to 15% in one day on 16th September 1992.
In 1997 the British people took the opportunity to eject the Tories from office in spite of a booming economy. That was due to years of infighting, a perception that they were being corrupted by power, a competent opposition and the very real need for change after 18 years of single party rule.
By 2010 Labour had yet again run out of money and the people took the opportunity to replace them with the coalition and the promise to rebuild the economy.
Those hard won democratic rights gave us the opportunity to weigh up the electoral options in front of us. We could read the manifestos, the literature, watch the debates, listen to the interviews, question the politicians at our doors. We could judge the records and make an informed choice. And the wisdom of the crowd elected a government.
These trappings of the democratic process are sadly lacking at the heart of Europe. If the Commissioners had to stand on their record and on their manifestos, how much different would Europe look today?
Would the economic balance of power rest so strongly with Germany due to their joining the Euro at too low a rate? Would Greece have ever been allowed to join the Euro in the first place against the advice of probably every sane economist in the world? Would youth unemployment in Spain be running at 50%? Would the direction of travel of the EU remain unchecked?
The argument around the democratic deficit at the heart of Europe has unfortunately been lost amidst the economic arguments. In the debates we are expected to believe projections for ten years out from organisations that can’t predict ten months out. Nobody can predict the future, especially and economic one. All we can be sure of is that economies will rise and fall. Gordon Brown did not abolish boom and bust and neither will Remain or Leave.
Here in Northern Ireland the benefits of leaving the EU would be immense. It would mean less regulation and paperwork for small businesses and our farmers. Meaning they would have more freedom to create jobs and prosperity in the local area. It would also see the flow of power going from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels to your elected politicians and into our local communities. Ultimately, this means more accountability to you over your everyday life as opposed to EU bureaucrats making decisions about your life. For instance, do you want the EU deciding if the NHS should be privatised or how much tax we should pay? The question has to be, do you want control over you and your family’s future and your country’s destiny or do you want to tie it to an already failing and declining EU?
The wisdom of the crowd has been lost in the European Union as the crowd are ignored. But on Thursday 23rd June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom have the opportunity to take back control and write their own future.
Councillor Richard Holmes
Councillor Aaron Callan