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December 17, 2018


Luis Enrique

"It’s no accident, I suspect, that so many prominent Brexiters were raised on the other side of the tracks to me"

but being raised rich predicts support for Remain on average, no?

maybe one difference between you and some supporters of Brexit is that you have not spent years consuming bullshit about the EU?

Christian Moon

And then there's Tony Benn too, I guess.

Sovereignty is a loaded term, it's democracy we mean. How much does it matter whether the government is accountable to an electorate?

The trade-off is immediate economic security at the cost of permanent loss of autonomy (and the end of meaningful politics).

In the long run, that loss of accountability feels scarier to me.


@Christian Moon - completely correct.

Politics is about Power. Sovereignty in this context is about having the power to elect the people who make your laws, who govern over you, and hold them accountable.

If you lose that control over your rulers, as we will do if we accept the backstop, then there is nothing to stop us ending up like Greece. You will have no voice, no levers of power, nothing.

Richard Burton

Perhaps it would be clearer to regard sovereignty as the nation state, capable of prioritising national interests over (imposed) extraterritorial or international interests.

David Friedman

I think the best way to intuit religious belief is to read well done fiction by a believer. C.S. Lewis would be one example—the Space Trilogy, which is aimed at adult readers, more than the Narnia books. Tolkien is a better writer, and although the religion is farther in the background, it is there. I expect there are other examples.


I have a similar view, sovereignty seems to me like a little gold ornament you can put in a glass case, looks pretty but is of no practical use.

I suppose the Kings and Queens of old had some sovereignty, they could plough the Spanish Main or beat up the French any time they chose and take over any hapless continent. But try that today and you get a nuke delivered.

I do find it hard to understand what sovereignty means in practical terms. We have to get along with everyone else and that means there are a lot of things we cannot realistically do just as I cannot expect to take over my neighbour's house and get away with it.

Then 'sovereignty' allows us to make our own laws - big deal. Firstly I am not impressed with how our Parliament makes laws, it seems to tack little pieces of law together but leaves lacunae all over the place. Filling in the gaps take ages and costs a fortune and often never gets sorted out, its a mess, example Grenfell. Secondly I am not impressed with how law is governed. For example, we would never have got the Hillsborough enquiry unless Mrs May had not been strong armed by the threat of being dragged through the European Courts. Our government and particularly the Home Office cannot be trusted, it needs an outside authority to keep it clean. One very bad effect of Brexit will be to take away this outside influence. In this regard sovereignty is a very bad thing, likely to be abused - on us.


Kind of related.

I would dearly love for Scotland to win the world cup. I would enjoy it much more than I would enjoy, say, a new bike or a holiday. But I wouldn't pay for it, whereas I'll happily buy myself an expensive bike or holiday.

Dave Timoney

There are two types of sovereignty: internal (who is ultimately in charge?) and external (the exchange of rights and obligations between states). One is foundational, the other contingent.

In most representative democracies these are split between different branches of government. External sovereignty is typically reserved to the executive (acting as the agent of the "sovereign", whether that is the people or a constitutional monarch) while internal sovereignty (the ultimate authority of the people) is deemed to be reflected in the legislature.

The UK is peculiar because of the concept of parliamentary sovereignty, "the Crown in Parliament", which confuses the two. This is a result of the incomplete revolution of the 17th century: we never fully acknowledged the people as sovereign. This confusion has allowed the forces of the crown to masquerade as democrats, insisting that the EU has encroached on the Commons ("they make all our laws") when what it actually did was circumscribe the executive.

Brexit is another cycle in the long-running struggle between Crown and Parliament, but despite the claims that in "taking back control" we are restoring Parliamentary sovereignty, we are actually increasing the power of the executive. That might appear a paradox given the travails of Theresa May, but the longer-term impact will be to make the office of Prime Minister even more dominant (just consider the powers being repatriated from the EU but reserved by Whitehall rather than devolved).

Sovereignty may be presented and popularly understood as an intrinsic good, but it is fundamentally (as Dipper noted) a simple matter of power. A confusion over the difference between external and internal sovereignty has led to a situation that will increasingly compromise the latter.

Dennis Smith

It’s a fair criticism that much mainstream economics privileges individual and material goods over collective and non-material ones (which is not to suggest that the individual/collective and material/non-material distinctions coincide). Goods come in a variety of types which differ in their logic, psychology and economics.

Sovereignty may be the good most often discussed with reference to Brexit but it’s by means the only or the best example. Goods like democracy, autonomy, empowerment, solidarity and esteem are all relevant to the argument and some of these have solid progressive and left-wing credentials.

It’s nonsensical to look for a single explanation for a complex phenomenon like Brexit: different people voted for it for different (combinations of) reasons. But it’s a reasonable guess that some people voted for Brexit because they felt *both* materially impoverished under austerity and socially and politically disempowered and devalued by current trends. People often seek to compensate for material poverty by emphasising their social solidarity, cultural vibrancy or spiritual wealth (and this move is not necessarily delusional). But in recent years some groups (including so-called working-class whites) have been hit by a double whammy, losing out in both dimensions.

The genius of the slogan ‘Take back control’ was to appeal (almost subliminally) to many different constituencies – men should take back control over women, whites over blacks, straights over gays, natives over immigrants, English over Scots. One of the many flaws of the disastrous Remain campaign in 2016 was to concentrate on material issues to the exclusion all else, allowing Leave to appropriate the arguments about democracy, autonomy, etc.


you can regard sovereignty as an option on decision-making. There isn't a Black Scholes formula to value it but the notion that independent decision making has an additional value is surely one economists can get their head round.

@ Dennis Smith "The genius of the slogan ‘Take back control’ was to appeal (almost subliminally) to many different constituencies – men should take back control over women, whites over blacks, straights over gays, natives over immigrants, English over Scots" - this is ridiculous. Did people who voted for independence in the Scottish Referendum vote so that white scots could take control over black scots? Scottish men over Scottish women? Lowlands over highlanders? I voted Leave to be free from this kind of patronising insulting nonsense.


" Coming from a poor background has caused me to value wealth highly – maybe to over-value it. It’s no accident, I suspect, that so many prominent Brexiters were raised on the other side of the tracks to me: Johnson, Banks, Farage, Rees-Mogg and so on. "

Yet we were very stridently told post 2016 that Brexit voters were the old, the under-educated, the stupid............

Its weird, the Left consistently deride the Right as 'selfish' when they complain about paying more taxes, yet here you are demanding that your right to make more money is more important than a democratic vote that might reduce your ability to continue earning as much.

How much support are you going to give me if I complain about how a democratically elected Corbyn government would cause me to lose income/wealth? Can I demand that a Corbyn government be set aside because I stand to lose out? Or is some people losing out because of the votes of others the price we pay for living in a democracy?


People think that the UK is already too congested and they don't think that building more houses and roads should be the answer. They don't think that letting in more doctors from places that probably need them much more than us is a good thing. They are sceptical of economists who have trumped up the benefits, because they know, that like bankers before the financial crisis, they were pro free movement in goods, capital and (economic) labour -ie basically pro uber-globalisation, inflated its benefits, and they basically got what they wanted. People are now fatigued with their pro-globalisation message.

I think you need to think about (heterodox) Dependency theory. As a Marxist you are familiar with it. We have created a situation where we are DEPENDENT on foreign labour etc. It is self-fulfilling. That is how we have a situation where we can have permanent underemployment of natives, yet a dependency on foreign labour.

The case for immigration should be made on compassionate grounds, a la Merkel. Not on dubious economic ones as was done when Britain went alone and did not impose transitional controls when the EU expanded. This decision was based on Model (aka neo-classical theory), not a well-informed consideration of the likely scale of movement and the social, and clearly, political implications.

The impact of immigration is very complex. It will affect a street in suburban Peterborough to one in North London very differently. But it is at the root of the desire for a large proportion of the population to want to reassert national control (when before immigration started taking off in 1997, there was not such a groundswell).

Ralph Musgrave

Chris disapproves of religion AND Brexit. Slight inconsistency there, I think. One of the main arguments for Brexit is that it is clearly the intention of Merkel and Marcron etc to turn the EU into an Afro-Islamic state, thus if we insulate the UK from the EU, we are less likely to suffer the same fate.

Though having said that, it could be argued that the ultimate objective of the main political parties in the UK is also to Islamize the UK: they’re already half way there. So perhaps leaving the EU wouldn’t make much difference.


"The impact of immigration is very complex. It will affect a street in suburban Peterborough to one in North London very differently. "

Mainly because the street in Peterborough currently still has a majority of natives living there (tho probably not by much)................they're long gone from the London one.


Big words like 'sovereignty', 'democracy', 'freedom', 'socialism', 'capitalism' etc have very complicated and wide ranging definitions. Unless you are clear about what you mean when you use them you can confuse people, most of all yourself.

I think the people desiring sovereignty want independent action for themselves - but forget that other groups will also gain independent action. This will frustrate them.


I have a solutiuon! The Republic of Ireland can simply rejoin the UK. Then there is no proibem about the border. This is obviously fine, as the sovereignty of the Irish Republic is not anything of value, hence they aren't losing anything by re-unifying with the UK.


An intriguing double negative post. You’re arguing purely for Euro-scepticism-scepticism, not for any positive belief, such as in the “Idea of Europe”. I must admit, I’d never guessed you were a “no such thing as society” Thatcher type. Socialism without a positive conception of society feels like a contradiction.

BTW the Ewan McGaughey post you link to is really weak and evasive. The headline policy here is surely re-nationalisation of the railways, currently supported by two thirds of the electorate. As this Independent article says (https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/brexit-lexit-eu-trade-deals-nationalisation-corbyn-back-on-agenda-a8112976.htm): “it seems clear that EU rules would make it difficult to replace our wasteful franchising process with a new, integrated national public rail company.”


“Also insofar as sovereignty means more power for national governments it empowers our opponents as much as ourselves. The belief that it will be used beneficially, I fear, rests upon an optimism bias - the idea that the right side will win power.”

That’s why multiple smaller polities are a good idea. It’s much harder to capture 28 separate polities at-a-stroke than one large one. If the government next door does something great we can imitate it, and if it does something stupid we’ll know not to follow their bad example. Truth discovery through policy divergence.

The whole raison d’être of the EU is the homogenisation of governance (and almost nothing else). This inevitably means feedback signals will be weaker, and policy failures will be bigger failures, affecting far more people.

Robert Mitchell

The remainers seem to lack the fabled british "stiff upper lip". Wren-Lewis for example comes off as a big whiner. Neoliberalism has softened you all ...


"That’s why multiple smaller polities are a good idea. It’s much harder to capture 28 separate polities at-a-stroke than one large one."

How small should the polities be? Why not anarcho-capitalism? Do you think the USA would have been as successful if it was a multitude of counties of a few hundred thousand people (say) instead of one large nation with nested sovereignty at federal, state and county levels?


Dipper, I like your idea as sovereignty as an option on decision-making. Of course, remaining in the EU we would continue to have this option, since we could trigger A50 at any time. So we already had sovereignty in the relevant sense.

Tynnie Todgers

"BTW the Ewan McGaughey post you link to is really weak and evasive."

Yep, and the EU Articles McGaughey cites do not support his assertions.

dilbert dogbert

dipper posted:
If you lose that control over your rulers, as we will do if we accept the backstop, then there is nothing to stop us ending up like Greece. You will have no voice, no levers of power, nothing.

As someone from across the pond I immediately thought: Or, you could end up like the United States. I don't think there is any controlling our president.



Thanks for that thoughtful reply.

It was Galileo who asked, why can’t a creature as beautiful as a butterfly be as big as an elephant? It led him to the square cube law. At that time he couldn’t have asked, why can’t a creature as beautiful as a butterfly be as tiny as a virus?

There is a square cube law of politics, by which smaller countries tend to be more nimble than larger ones, with better feedback responses. Iceland made the same mistakes as the USA and the UK in the run-up to the 2007 crash, but they were able to learn their lessons quicker, jail 26 bankers, and promptly de-toxify their politics. On the other hand, if Iceland was no bigger than the unofficial micro-nation of Sealand, those benefits couldn’t operate. A country with a population of just two people can’t jail one of them and still function.

Regarding the USA: I think it’s virtually unique. In North America the largest country is also the richest in GDP per capita PPP. But that’s not the norm. Uruguay is richer than Brazil, Sri Lanka is richer than India, Taiwan is richer than China. Australia is the richest country in Oceania, and that’s suggestive. A colonial settler society can create its political institutions first, then pour in most of its population later. That’s why the 3,000 mile gap between Portland Oregon and Portland Maine is a trivial cultural gap compared with that between Helsinki and the Hellenes. The EU is attempting to superimpose the political structure of a colonial settler society on very different starter populations.

(Then again, the worst war in US history was the Civil War. It killed more Americans than either WW1 or WW2. If the South had won in 1865, the USA couldn’t have killed 4 million Vietnamese a century later. There are downsides to giantism, even in the case of the USA.)

Ultimately absolute size is less important than the palpable presence of relevant counter-examples, and the learning process they forcefully engender. Jared Diamond believes that the political fragmentation of Europe at the start of the modern era was a huge benefit compared to the political unity of China. Italian banking, Dutch joint stock corporations and British industrialisation were all freely copied by other European countries, but not the Polish Liberum Veto. But China suffered from the ability of stupid rulers to impose harmonised stupidity over a large area with weak feedback and learning. Zheng He created the greatest navy in the world, only for a future emperor to scrap it completely.

Since the death of Mao, Europe and China have seemingly swapped places. Deng Xiaoping was encouraged to reform by the palpable counter-examples of Chinese success in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. His strategy for change was to create experimental special economic zones, which could resist homogenisation and opt out of national policies. Then, when they obviously worked, they were copied. I believe the EU’s Article 13 on copyright will be a disaster, a Liberum Veto of the internet. If just one EU country tried it out first, we’d quickly all see how terrible it was, and the other 27 countries would resolve not to copy the bad example. But the ability to impose it uniformly across the whole EU may insulate EU lawmakers from the consequences of their folly for far longer.

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