Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fog in Channel

At the European Summit in The Hague in 1969, the Heads of State and Government of the European Community agreed to prepare a plan for economic and monetary unionThe three stage plan proposed gradual, institutional reform leading to the irrevocable fixing of exchange rates and the adoption of a single currency within a decade. There are several references to "the transfer of responsibility from the national authorities to Community authorities".

To me this made a lot of sense. As excitingly progressive and even revolutionary as the sixties in Great Britain had been, it was my conviction that the nation needed a broader perspective if complacent insularity was to be avoided.

On the 1st of April 1971, April Fools' Day, I said goodbye to London and have never since then made my home on the island menaced by fogs which could cut off the European mainland.

I think that during the forty-five years that have since elapsed, it was always my hope that the supra-national and even federalist vision firmly rooted in the concept of regional (not national) subsidiarity might result in long overdue reforms in the United Kingdom as the EU evolved and matured.

And now? Scotland has a unicameral parliament with 129 members and the Holyrood debating chamber of the has seating arranged in a hemicycle, which reflects the desire to encourage consensus amongs the elected members. The franchise north of the border has been extended to 16 and 17-year-olds and is widely considered a success in terms of engaging young people in politics. The voting system comes close to the democratic ideal of proportional representation. All of the political parties have leaders (all women!) who command respect.

By contrast Westminster lumbers on with an unwieldy and undemocratic House of Lords. Younger voters on Thursday expressed the wish to stay in the EU by a large majority. 75 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted Remain, compared to around 40 per cent of voters over the ageof sixty-five. Members of Parliament are still elected according to the antiquated 'first past the post' system. The 650 members of parliament must vie for one of the 427 places on the green leather benches, arrayed in an adversarial rectangular pattern. Some maintain that this layout helps to keep debates lively and robust but also intimate. It also remains the case that in the United Kingdom MPs can only transfer their allegiance from government to opposition, or vice versa, by crossing the floor in plain view. During debates, members speaking on opposing sides are also not meant to step over the red lines on the carpet, which are said to equal two sword lengths.

Modernizing and harmonizing inputs from Europe will now not inform the parliamentarians in Westminster, not that the influence from across the Channel was ever truly welcome. And we must not forget those 'two sword lengths'! Now that both the Conservative and Labour parties are riven by bitter internal squabbling and both sidesof the House are embroiled in leadership crises there could be memorable skirmishes to come!   

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