In a dangerous world, the UK prospers together or declines apart

by Jonathan Todd

The British have been protected by NATO and grown richer through the EU throughout my life. Soon the breakup of the UK may drain Britain of meaning and Russian troops could be threatening a NATO member, while Martin Wolf of the FT thinks it likely that the Eurozone will remain in a  “bad marriage “, too costly to breakup but so unhappy that its members would not have chosen it knowing what they now do.

Those in the “bad marriage” struggle to find the resources or the will to meet their NATO obligations. They seem ineffectual in the face of both Putin and ISIS. Europeans alternately look to the US to solve these problems and blame them on the US, while offering precious little by way of European solutions. If we remain united, the British can be part of achieving more than this.

David Cameron – pace Owen Jones – is right to compare Putin’s tactics with those of Hitler in the early stages of World War II. He follows Timothy Garton Ash, not noted for hyperbole, in doing so. Robin Lustig, another sober and astute observer, compares events in Iraq and Syria to World War I.

As we stand on the precipice of UK breakup, accurately described by Sir Edward Leigh MP as “a national humiliation of catastrophic proportions” during the last PMQs, we face mounting dangers. This catastrophe would irreversibly weaken us. Instead of possessing a united armed forces which count for something, as David Blair notes, we will have chosen to divide them into two shrunken militaries that would count for very little.

Never again we will we speak with the authority that we possess at international forums, such as the UN, G7/8, G20, and NATO. Significantly, UK breakup is likely to be used as a justification by non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to push for this status to be removed from what remains of the UK. This rump is also more likely to vote to leave the EU if this referendum occurs without Scotland, while those EU members with separatist movements, particularly Spain, will ensure that a post-breakup Scotland is locked out of the EU. British capacity to shape the EU as it evolves in the face of the continued challenges of the Euro will be non-existent.

Edward Lucas recently reflected that the west is playing chess and Putin poker. As, I would add, are ISIS. After UK breakup, we wouldn’t be playing much of anything on the international stage, as it descends into ever more bloody poker. For us to so abdicate our capacities would be a betrayal both of the victims of this poker and the UK’s proud international record. We helped create the UN under Clement Attlee and expanded the EU under Tony Blair, while the forerunner to DfID was established under Harold Wilson.

Labour is an internationalist party. Such a thing may be a cruel anachronism in less than a fortnight’s time. But our problems after breakup will be domestic as well as international. We’d rapidly experience pressure on banks, the pound and public debt. Sufficient to take the wind out of our building economic recovery. With nothing to look forward to other than endless haggling over the terms of our divorce from a marriage that, unlike the Euro, has been happy, long and successful.

We cannot expect 5 million people to take a decision on behalf of 63 million and take this decision in such a way as to negatively impact all 63 million – immediate economic difficulties, ongoing uncertainty, permanent diminishment – without the other 58 million becoming exasperated. A political vehicle for these sentiments will be sought because none of the three leading UK parties are well placed to be such. As this wave of English grievance and perhaps nationalism rises in response to the realised dreams of Scottish nationalism, maybe this vehicle will centre on Nigel Farage or perhaps around even uglier forces.

It is hard, therefore, not to share the worries of Jonathan Freedland about the country that Scotland might leave behind. I must play Edmund Burke to those Thomas Paines of the English left willing those across the border to vote “Yes”. I’m worried too, as we all should be, about approximations to World War I in the Middle East and World War II in Ukraine. I’m worried also that Labour has too little substantive to say to the massive challenges of our times. But has found time in the past week to shoehorn a cost of living reference into a press release on an ONS statistical update.

Nothing that Chris Leslie says in this release is wrong per se but it seems small potatoes in an era of potatoes so big that they could instantly make mincemeat of whole political generations. Our leaders must rise to these challenges of national leadership or accept that others, possibly with answers that Labour would find unpalatable, will fill the void.

The most urgent priority is sufficiently reviving the popular understanding of what makes Britain great to keep the UK together. It’s less about what Scotland would lose by leaving the UK and more about what all parts of the UK would be denied after breakup. Having rediscovered this, we must raise our sights to a world that the UK still has much to offer, provided we remain united enough to do so.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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One Response to “In a dangerous world, the UK prospers together or declines apart”

  1. Dave Roberts. says:

    I would agree that we have been protected by NATO but it seems that Seamus Milne in The Gruaniad disagrees and thinks tat NATO are in fact warmongers desperately trying to start a nuclear war. What he makes of the latest kidnapping of an officer of a NATO member country we haven’t been informed yet.

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