Family photograph of mayors in Paris on 4 December, 2015
I have been profoundly disturbed by the ‘civil war’ that has erupted over the EU Referendum. Intelligent, open-hearted, democratic debate has been overtaken by unhealthy polarisation and bullying, and even tragically violence. This has mostly been directed around the issue of immigration.
It may be very useful for some to divide and conquer but this masks a much more fundamental and urgent debate on the really pressing issues of our time, such as air pollution, climate change, obesity/inactivity crises and increasing inequality around the world. And of course the suffocating dominance of corporations.
I do not believe the outdated institutions of centralised Westminster UK Government or the EU are fit for purpose. Both are highly undemocratic, stagnant and disempowering for citizens.
Although I admire Client Earth’s struggle to bring the UK Government into line on EU air pollution limits through the courts, we see how excruciatingly laborious, expensive and time-consuming this approach is. And anyway the EU has now watered down air pollution limits under pressure from the very concentrated, powerful car lobby in Brussels. Our current UK central Government seems even more resistant to addressing this public health issue. We are caught between a rock and a hard place.
Which is why I am proposing that the only way to speed up change is devolved power to directly elected Mayors across the world; this will bring about change both at a local level and collaboration at a global level, as seen at COP 21. I want democracy brought back to the grass-roots, where citizens feel empowered on the streets of their own cities. Public health, housing and environmental issues brought back to the heart of the community.
This is not about the EU block opposed to say the US or the African Group. This is about cities around the world, who are responsible for 70% of emissions, joining together to combat serious and urgent issues.
Centralised bodies like UK Westminster parliament and EU Parliament like to hold on to and increase power, whether through an unrepresentative voting system or Federalism. How easy is it for someone in the Orkneys to protest outside Westminster Parliament or EU Parliament? It is very financially onerous on all but the most well-heeled of society to be incumbent on these centralised institutions.
I understand there are flaws in this system too. What do rural areas do? Can they have a Mayoral system that works for them.? And of course Mayors can be corrupt too.
Some will say the status quo is the best we can do. Personally I believe the status quo is not an option, we are at the precipice. Let’s open up the debate on more dynamic alternatives that are appropriately reactive to the fast-moving times we live in.
You echo Yanis Varoufakis who believes a progressive Europe will begin with “rebel cities” – led by charismatic mayors. He quotes Barcelona, for instance.
Your principled abstention is also echoed by someone I saw who said: “A different, progressive EU” is not on the ballot paper.
Irvine Welsh wrote yesterday: “whether you back red or black in the tawdry, crumbling casino of neoliberalism, and whatever the slimy croupiers of the mainstream media urge, it’s the house that invariably wins.” I wish it weren’t so.