It's been slightly astounding and rather worrying to watch the events going on in Europe over the last few days. Being posted around the other side of the globe means that you often lose touch with day to day sentiment back home, and with the fine details of what is happening. But it does also give one a wider view on events - or at least I like to think so.
I get the sense that something rather important has happened, but it's very interesting to see the entirely opposing presentations of what's happened by the two different sides of the media. Depending where you look it is:
A - The UK standing up for itself and possibly a step on the road to the UK's freedom from the EU.
B - A huge mistake and possibly a step to the UK's marginalization from the EU.
I guess it could actually be both at the same time.
Reading newspaper articles and particularly their comment threads, it does seem that there is a large vocal group who are in camp A, and who are keen for the UK to get out of the EU as soon as possible. But my worry is that these people don't seem to have a very global view of the world. I think that goes to the heart of my worry.
The real question is, where do you see the UK's position in the world? If you think of the UK in terms of being a great power, and think of it's history and great influence on the world in years gone by, then leaving the EU (or being marginalized inside it) isn't anything to worry about. If you see the UK as a small country in a big global pond, then leaving the safety of the EU group is a scary prospect indeed.
So, where does the UK stand in the modern world?
The UK is the 6th biggest economy in the world. Looks good. It has the 22nd biggest population. Looks ok. But a number of other economies are growing rapidly (Brazil, India, etc..) and we're unlikely to hold on to our 6th position for long. And there is a big gap in size between the top 3 economies and the rest. Looks worrying.
From my time is Asia it has been eyeopening to learn that the UK is largely irrelevant on the world stage, at least from here. When it comes to the global negotiations of bodies like the UN, it's the USA, the EU and maybe China/Russia that make the decisions. I find it very unlikely that a UK alone would be able to wield much influence on the world stage, and with it's aging population, and losing it's economic position, it's a worrying probability that it'd slide into obscurity.
Those in camp A, such as Conservative euroskeptic MPs, the Right Wing Press, and a lot of commentors, had better be pretty confident about the weight that the UK would wield before going it alone. I'd be more willing give their views some weight if I felt that any of them actually understood the world outside the UK. But I fear that they do not. Their memories of past power and glory get in the way.
Lessons from Japan
Japan is the 3rd/4th largest economy - double the size of the UK. For the last 20 years it has been number 2, just behind the USA. When was the last time anyone in the UK knew anything about Japan's political views? Can anyone in Japan name the Japanese Prime minister? When did Japan last have a meaningful impact on global negotiations?
I can't think of an example. And this is a country with double the population and double the economy of the UK. It was number two! Yet negotiations over the last 20 years have been dominated by the USA, the EU and Russia. And recently other nations have noticed this and are banding together into blocks (ASEAN in asia, south american blocks, even african blocks). Collectively, the EU has the weight to stand up to the big boys. Alone, I don't think any of its nations do.
It's a multinational world of global business
These days nationality isn't what it was. National sovereignty isn't what it was (and it only ever was if you were one of the powerful few). Companies and Businesses can relocate at the drop of a hat, and there are a lot more countries out their competing for them than there used to be. Just being born British is no longer a guarantee. Just being Britain is no longer a guarantee. And a lone, isolated and weakened UK is going to be a lot less appealing to those big multinationals.
A few interesting views: