I DOUBT many people read the minutes of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe. They are very short, but they tell a tale.
This twenty member body is typical of the statist norm; good people advising on how good things can be done for the common good. But there is a vital context here. This council is made up of five academics, four Eurocrats, one local bureaucrat, two diplomats, three politicians, and three (pro-EU) think tankers; all with mixed present and past responsibilities, but generally recipients of taxpayer funded careers. There is one CEO from the finance industry and the CEO of Glasgow Airport completing the group.
Who knows how much it costs someone to bring these people into one room, but it is notable that the number of apologies for absence seems to grow each month.
As for the minutes, a group with a tendency for bemoaning Brexit appears to have become a little tired; the minutes show that they are a cipher for remoaner clichés; they want more policy detail, they want clarity and transparency and, importantly, they see these things being visible from the EU but not from the UK. The tone of the minutes reminds me of one of those coffee mornings of blue-rinsed conservatives sounding off about how awful their well-padded world has become.
One telling sentence illustrates a perspective: “Increasingly the day-to-day focus of the EU is elsewhere, with Brexit being viewed as under control and managed within agreed parameters and processes”. This is a wonderful example of the self-regard of professional administrators; they seek a tidy world of “parameters and processes”, backed up by the curmudgeonly assertion that the EU has thrown up their hands in disgust (which is what most members of the Council appear to be doing) based on no evidence I have read elsewhere.
They also have reality precisely wrong. It is the EUs adherence to its self-imposed agreed parameters and processes that is making these negotiations so difficult. The Commission has set the process and demanded that their negotiating team adheres to them and so locked itself into administering those parameters alone. It’s typical of the EU and a reason why we should be even more keen to exit; this is no innovating, forward looking progressive institution.
If the Council had been made up with some small and medium sized exporters and importers, a few independent globally focussed thinkers and some corporate players who could look to the wider picture it might have serviced the Scottish Government better. Instead, we have a mirror of why the Scottish Government is so inept at making any progress on anything; it only knows how to play to its own constituency of interest; statist minds, publically funded with a collegiate focus on how to best carve up a non-growing economic pie that they, in their wisdom, control as a partnership of like minds. This is how the blind lead the blind.
The real world is a much more messy place. And the core of the error here for economic liberals is that these people do not really believe in freedom. As Milton Friedman pointed out; intellectuals and businesses want freedom for themselves, but control for everyone else. I urge you to read his thoughts on this – they can be found here.
What Friedman reminds is that true liberalism disallows power to any faction; and that factions are very good at hiding their self-interest in fine words and outrage. The job of economic liberals is to howl equal outrage about special privilege for business and government protection for their buddies like those on this Standing Council.
The whole point of Brexit is to release liberties across a wide range of talents to engage with the wider world; you don’t have policies that define and administer trade in this globalised world, you also do not seek privilege through subsidy for the great and the good either. Instead, you have the clear principles of free trade and competition to drive innovation and growth; imports tell us what to get better at making; exports are what we use to buy imports so that we don’t need to make those ourselves. We operate on comparative advantage, not falsely constructed competitive advantage created through regulation and controls.
For some economic liberals, we should not have started any negotiations with the EU in the first place; the EU cannot take principled decisions, it operates through political horse-trading. The present stalling talks were predictable – it may be time to take a walk and force the EU to ask us what we can offer them rather than them complaining that they cannot understand our position. They appear not to be listening as they are so wrapped up in their pre-defined process.
If Scotland needs a Council on Europe at all, it needs one that works out how free enterprising Scots can make our working people and consumers rich and happy; to release the optimism about tomorrow that’s built into the genes of entrepreneurial business. Instead, the Scottish Government appears to have hired a dull bunch of pessimists, determined to moan that they can only see themselves being poorer and unhappy because the gravy train of their privileged rent-seeking is going to be cut off.
Too often, the Scottish Government is allowed to paint itself as a progressive democratic people-loving administration; it’s not, it’s a sclerotic, self-defining privileged clique of administrators who do not care to set Scots free to grow in a world where liberty is allowed to triumph.
Eben Wilson is a broadcaster, political economist and entrepreneur.
Copies of the Milton Friedman artwork are available from Rightposters