A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Monday, 24 October 2011

The 1975 Referendum Is - and Ought to Be - Irrelevant

Jimmy Callaghan (left): the only Prime Minister ever to give us a euro-referendum.

'We had a referendum on that issue in 1975, which produced a very clear result,' says Laurence Mann, David Cameron's senior aide on European Union affairs. Mr. Mann joins a long list of pro-membership campaigners, commentators, and politicians (especially those of the anti-vote persuasion), to fall back on the 1975 referendum as 'proof' that the electorate's view of the European Union chimes with theirs.

It's a nice idea, that the continuing government policy has some measure of democratic legitimacy. But it is logically impossible. Basic chronology and all our understanding of space and time itself tells us that we could not have had a referendum on European Union membership in 1975, as, in 1975, the European Union did not exist. The European Economic Community existed. This isn't just semantics: that was a different body entirely, with almost no legislative or political power in comparison to its modern counterpart. No overbearing and unaccountable Commission passing law, no chief executives styling themselves as 'the government of Europe,' as Romano Prodi did. No Lisbon; no Maastricht. No courts, no bank, no euro. The electorate of 1975 voted on a trading bloc. Not a supra-national government.

That electorate itself has also changed substantially. The only people who had a say are those who , in 1975, were eighteen or over. A fair few of them are now dead: those that aren't are at least fifty-three, and many of them are quite a bit older. The referendum was held a whole generation ago: no-one who isn't a Boomer has ever had a say, on either the EU, or our relationship with it (and, before you say that we have the chance every general election, please bear in mind that all parties are pro-referendum when canvassing for votes).

The referendum of 1975 is not only a generation out of date, its subject was an entirely different relationship - with an entirely different organisation. The planet has changed beyond recognition. The Soviet Union is gone; American domiance is slowly ebbing away; and the Second World War - the idea that inspired so many of the Boomers, understandably, to push for greater union - is now studied in school textbooks, rather than the officious pages of bomb damage assessments. So many other international organisations now have the preservation of peace as their goal as to make any peacekeeping purpose of the EU wholly redundant: if the combined might of the UN, NATO, countless multi-lateral agreements, and a proliferation of regional bodies aren't able to do it, it's a pretty safe bet that the EU wouldn't be able to do it, either. For political purposes, this a completely new world: and it's a world that should be given - and demands - a vote.

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