Sunday, November 18, 2018

Brexiteers Are the Worst Separatists?

One of the basic tendencies of separatists (non-decolonization edition) is that they soft-pedal the costs of transition and overplay the benefits.  This makes sense as a political strategy: "hey Quebeckers, you get to keep everything you like about Canada, but get to be independent."  Of course, these promises are contradictions--if you are an independent country, then you can't have someone else issuing passports for your country.  You can rely on someone else's currency, but that basically means that you cannot have your own monetary policy. When the Scots tried to secede a few years ago, the Scottish National Policy changed its stance on NATO, saying that they would not mind staying in an alliance that they had long opposed.  Why?  To get more votes.

The problem is this: in a normal political campaign, you can make all kinds of promises, including ones that are in contradiction with each other and then finesse the differences afterwards.  Separatism is different--if one is successful, then one has an independent country and suddenly face a lot of new realities that are much harder to finesse.  Why?  Because becoming a different country does indeed mean breaking with the old country and so many of those promises either cannot be kept or must be kept but are very costly to do so.

Part of this is that a party that comes into power after winning an ordinary election in a democracy has to bargain with other parties, but they can ultimately pick and choose which parties and which issues to negotiate.  When one secedes, one can't choose the bargaining partners--they will be the rump state and the international organizations that one wants to (re-)join.  The rump state will have far less incentive or desire to bargain than parties after an ordinary election--the politicians of the rump state are no longer responsible for the well-being of the citizens of the new state nor do they feel a compulsion to appeal to some kind of subset of the citizens of the new state.  I am probably downplaying coalitional bargaining (of which there is much, much literature I have not read), but it almost certainly pales in comparison to the amount of bargaining power one surrenders when one secedes.

Maybe Canada would have been gracious to a Quebec that a separatist referendum. Maybe a UK minus Scotland would have been kind to a departing Scotland (I doubt it).  Part if it is, of course, that the rump states want to make the transition painful to deter other separatist units.  But part of it is just the nature of the politics of the situation--the power imbalance usually favors the rump state because, here's the dirty secret, many separatist entities are among the better off in their previous country relative to the other units so they have more to lose.  Quebec gets far more from Canada in terms of equalization payments and other benefits than Canada gets.

How does this apply to Brexit?  Besides the fact that some of the Brexiteers were lying sacks of xenophobia (Nigel Farage), prior to Brexit, the British had the best of all worlds--they got to participate in much of the EU that they wanted, they got to opt out of what they did not want, and they had a goodly amount of decision-making power.  Post-Brexit, they lose all decision-making power except if they are smart bargainers (they aren't), they lose the ability to opt into the stuff that they want, and they are forced to accept what the EU has to offer.  Oh, and the EU has no incentive to make it easy for them.

Was this foreseeable?  Absolutely.  Just the whole Ireland/Northern Ireland issue was patently obvious, to name one aspect.  Which is why the Brexiteers lied about the process and the outcomes.  Brexit is one of the biggest unforced errors a country has made (other than invading Iraq without a good post-war plan, electing Donald Trump, ....).  Could we have predicted it would be this big of a shitshow? Probably not because we wouldn't have known that Labour would suck this much.

David Cameron has much to answer for, as he let this happen.  Theresa May has not played this well, but she has faced a tough situation.  Corbyn?  Oh my.  Labour could have walked into power how many times if it was not led by such an awful person.

And, yes, it reinforces my confirmation bias about one thing--massive political and social change should not be decided by 50% plus one.  All you need is for some drunk frat boy voters or, to be more specific, resentful voters seeking change but having no clue what change really means and lying politicians to pander to the worst instincts to temporarily bridge 50% to start something that any sane, sober person would regret quickly enough.  Britain was not broken before Brexit, but it surely is now.  Whatever flaws the EU had and continues to have, ripping the UK from it is far more destructive.  And, again, we knew that two years ago.  Who has the political courage to risk their careers by suggesting going back?

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