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The Voice Of 40-Something Cynical Optimism!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Neither Brussels nor Washington but...?

The article below was published in the Viewsletter of Devolve!, the radical pro-English regionalist group, in early 2001. The Devolve! website is at (I think!- type in England Devolve in a search engine if you have problems). One or two details I could change, but I can't really be asked ("FORWARD WITH APATHY"). Anything changed will [look like this].

Neither Brussels nor Washington but...? Thoughts on a post-UK foreign policy
for England.

Are you for the "Euroarmy" or NATO? Should we join the euro or the North
American Free Trade Association? Do you think our future is with "Europe" or
"America" or both? Is it possible to go shopping every other weekend to New
York AND own a holiday home in Provence? Are you sick and tired of hearing
such stuff ad nauseam in the media at the moment? I know I am.
Britain's metropolitan elite (which, however much they all deny it, includes
William Hague, the editor of the Sun and all those permanently outraged
columnists writing in the Mail and the Telegraph), whatever their ostensible
political colours (varying shades of blue from where I'm standing), are
obsessed with Britain's world role and how its relationships with the USA
and EU help or hinder this role. Hardly anyone in these rarefied circles
asks "why" Britain should have a world role. When they debate whether or not
Britain's armed forces are over stretched, no-one asks why Britain should
intervene militarily in Kosovo, Sierra Leone or Iraq (or Ulster for that
matter, despite most opinion polls conducted in the last 30 years suggest
most people on the "mainland" think the troops should pull out).
As Devolve!, by its very existence, questions the continuation of Britain as
a political entity, perhaps we should consider the geopolitics of a post-UK
England. For it is clear that a post-UK England could not simply pretend to
be a Britain "writ small" in the international order. So what should England
I don't think anyone in Devolve! wants a future England to be part of the
American Empire, whether as the Puerto Rico of the North Sea or as the 51st
state. The crass Americanisation of England (and much of the rest of the
world for that matter) frightens me: the day Devolve! brings out its own
baseball cap is the day I resign! Seriously, I see signs of hope that the
American Empire will collapse sooner rather than later, and mostly due to
internal pressures rather than external ones. The farce in Florida over the
past few weeks (I write this on December 4th [2000]) is just the most visible sign
that the current political order in the USA is suffering a deep crisis of
legitimacy which will continue into the Twenty First Century. I think
Devolve! should have a lot of sympathy with the growing number of democratic
localist/devolutionist, militarily isolationist and
anti-globalisation/pro-economic protectionist organisations, publications
and individuals within the USA, for their victories are also ours!
As for the EU, I know we have a spectrum of opinions wihin Devolve! Since I
wrote "Neither EU nor UK" for Issue 5 of VOME [when Devolve! was the Movement for Middle England] back in 1996 my basic anti-EU
stance has not changed. However, at the time I said that I would write about
an alternative vision of Europe in a future article. Over the last few years
I've thought hard and long about possible alternatives to the EU and/or US
hegemony over England, and I've come up with a not very systematic first
stab at solving my conundrum.
To begin with, to talk about one Europe in a political sense is nonsense; it
is a geographical expression, in the same way that Asia and Africa are. The
war over Kosovo in 1999 brought it home to me that Europe can never be
united politically, except by force. Consequently, instead of looking at
Europe as a whole for allies, England should place the emphasis in its
external relations upon closer links with its North West European
neighbours. That is, our fellow inhabitants of the British Isles; the
Bretons; the Normans; the Flemish (both in France and Belgium); the Dutch;
the Friesians; the Plattdeutsche (Low Germans); the Danes; the Scanians; the
Swedes; the Norwegians; the Jamtlanders; the Faroese; the Icelanders; and
the Greenlanders.
Apart from the geographical proximity, there are a number of reasons why I
am attracted to the idea of a post-UK England developing an alliance with
its fellow North West European neighbours. From a purely English
perspective, such an alliance would lead to a massive positive pyschological
shift in the way that England and the English look at the world. For over a
thousand years we have been forced to identify with a Norman-British
Imperial world-view & fight wars to either expand or defend this Empire. If
England turns to its immediate neighbours we can say that we have truly come
home and intend to build a society for ourselves; not an Empire for our
Establishment. We would return to the historic opportunity spurned in 1069,
when a Danish invasion of England, leading to "All the people of the land...
greatly rejoicing", was bought off with plundered English treasure by the
Furthermore, I would point to the antipathy which many of our North West
European neighbours share towards the EU. For example, Denmark and Sweden
are outside euroland; and Norway, the Faroes, Iceland and Greenland (which
withdrew in 1985) are outside the EU altogether. Perhaps the English share
with their neighbours an "isolationist patriotism" (2), which, in my
opinion, is a lot healthier world view than the "interventionist patriotism"
the UK currently indulges in! Moreover, in opposing the EU, North West
European EU-sceptics are unconsciously drawing upon the thinking of N.F.S.
Grundvig, a Nineteenth Century Danish poet and educationalist, who argued
that there were two main ideas in European history; the "Nordic freedom
tradition" and the "Roman Imperial tradition".(3)
Another reason why I advocate a North West European alliance is that I
admire greatly he socio-economic systems that were created in Scandinavia,
Holland and (after 1945) Germany during the Twentieth Century. They possess
a strong sense of social liberalism and a general culture of equality (long
standing equal rights legislation in Norway and Sweden owes nothing to a
European Commissioner for womens' rights). Our North West European
neighbours also have had an admirable record in keeping corporate capitalism
(the long standing opponent of genuine democrats, conservatives, ecologists,
environmentalists, free marketeers and socialists)(4) under control, through
a combination of state intervention in the economy, genuine competition and
anti-trust legislation.(5) Consequently, genuine competition in North West
European economies led to a more equal wealth distribution within those
societies, leading to more egalitarian, genuine well-off and healthier
Not surprisingly, such socio-economic achievements have come under
increasing attack from the forces of corporate globalisation during the last
thirty years or so. The introduction of the euro, and the policies of
austerity, privatisation and flexibility associated with it, is the most
visible manifestation of corporate capital's assaults upon the German social
market and Nordic welfare models (that's the main reason why 80% want to
keep the Deutsche mark, and the Danes rejected the euro in September).(7)
Put simply, the preservation of the socio-economic systems of North West
Europe which, overall, served them well during the Twentieth Century, can
only survive in any worthwhile form if both globalisation and the EU are
rejected by North West Europe.
Although we have our differences over the EU, it would be churlish of me not
to acknowledge the influence upon my thinking over the last few years of
Woody's paper for the first "Whose Regions?" conference "Regions, Peoples
and Sustainability in North Europe."(8) I admire particularly Woody's
attempt to apply bioregional theory to North West Europe": "One of the
features of to take as a central element a great
waterway system...We don't have anything like that- or do we? If we change
to a water based focus in North West Europe and take the Irish Sea/Western
approaches and the North Sea as rough points of reference, new possibilities
emerge..." Indeed, if we add the English Channel and the North East
Atlantic, there is a bioregional basis for a North West European alliance
upon the lines I advocate. Furthermore, England and its neighbours share
environmental problems i.e. pollution/overfishing in the North Sea, acid
rain from British Isles power stations falling over Scandinavia's forests,
which could be tackled at a North West European level. If we could get the
Norwegians and others to stop whale hunting- even better! (perhaps until we
English ban fox hunting, we cannot really claim any sort of moral high
ground on this issue...).
I hope that this article demonstrates that it is possible to begin thinking
of an England free not only from the UK, but from the USA and EU as well.
Admittedly, this is just a beginning. Furthermore, I do not think that our
North West European neighbours are prefect by any stretch of the
imagination. For example, Scania should get autonomy from Sweden. Moreover,
there is a lot of anti-immigrant feeling in Denmark and Sweden, but how much
of that (and elsewhere) is the result of increasing socio-economic
insecurity and cultural alienation encouraged in the wake of growing
corporate globalisation during recent decades? However, I think that is to
be truly free in the next century it must turn towards its North West
European neighbours- or die.
1. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, as quoted in 'The Mercia Manifesto' (The
Mercia Movement, 1997), p.115.
2. I heard the phrase on a Radio 4 programme early in 2000 which suggested
that the EU would sooner or later split up due to its different geopolitical
outlooks i.e. Spain, France and Italy looking towards North Africa and the
Middle East.
3. A snippet of information I wrote down a few years ago. Anyone who knows
anything else about Grundvig- I'd much appreciate further enlightenment.
4. Reading Noam Chomsky over the last couple of years, I have become
increasingly aware of the concept of corporate capital, and why it should be
opposed by all the political tendencies I listed (as well as anarchists
etc.) as a major threat to everything they stand for. See, for instance,
Chapters 13 & 14 of Chomsky's 'Rogue States' (Pluto Press, 2000).
5. Chomsky ('Keeping the Rabble in Line', AK Press, 1994, pp.248-9) points
out that Adam Smith argued that "a properly functioning market will tends
towards equality and that a perfect system will be one of very extensive and
pervasive equality. The closer you reach equality the closer you reached a
perfect society...only under those conditions would a market economy
function properly...He was very critical of what he called 'joint stock
companies', what we would call corporations...He had a good deal of
scepticism about them because of the separation of managerial control from
direct participation and also because they might...turn into...immortal
persons, which indeed happened in the nineteenth century, not longer after
his death." It appears that justifying modern corporate capitalism by
appealing to Adam Smith is as grotesque as claiming that Karl Marx would
approve of contemporary North Korea.
6. I can only cover the very barest outlines of this argument, put forward
by David Simmons, author of 'Reinventing the Economy' (John Harvester,
1998?) in "Turn Left for the Third Way" 'Politics Today' Issue 2 (a sadly
defunct magazine- back copies still available from David Simmons, 5 Russell
Road, Northolt, Middlesex UB5 4QR), pp.32-40.
7. 'The Guardian' (December 16 1999, p.16) reported a survey of German
public opinion under the headline "Germany likes things as they are, polls
find", which suggested the Germans were generally happy with the social
market system they were living under and wary of globalisation and the
so-called "new economy". Sounds like a basically sensible country to me...
8. Woody might have some spare copies if you do not have a copy of his
magnum opus...


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