Open Borders and the EU referendum

An article by Chris Gilligan (Open Borders Scotland) on the issue of sovereignty. The article points out that in liberal political theory sovereignty is concieved as a social contract in which rights are guaranteed to citizens – but in doing so this contract also divides humanity along national lines:

In the tradition of liberal political thought sovereignty is conceived as a social contract. We, as citizens, give up our power to the state. We allow the state to be the supreme authority (the sovereign) within the territorial borders of the nation-state. In return, the state promises to act in the best interests of its citizens. In liberal democratic states both parties, the state on the one side and its citizens on the other, are bound to this bargain. In return for giving up our power to the state we are conferred rights, which prevent states from abusing this power that we have given them. This contract, then, involves two parties – citizens and the state…

This contract also, however, involves demarcating citizens from non-citizens; those who are party to the contract and those who are not. In a world of nation-states, sovereignty is always national sovereignty. Consequently… one of the fundamental problems with sovereignty is that it necessarily divides humanity on national lines.

The article argues that the issue of immigratin is so contentious in Europe today because large numbers of ordinary working people feel that this social contract has broken down.

The issue of migration has become one of the most contentious issues in Europe today because many citizens feel that the social contract–– government of the people, for the people, by the people––has been broken. Few citizens in Europe today think that their government acts for the people. There is widespread political disaffection…

Many… ordinary people… feel distant from the political elite. They complain that ‘No one listens to us’ and ‘If you haven’t got money, no one cares’.

For many ordinary working people immigration policy is an index of their government’s distance from them and their everyday concerns.

The article argues, against the prevailing perception, that those who feel disaffected from political elites (large numbers of them in favour of Brexit, and avowedly anti-immigrant) have a lot in common with immigrants. They are the disadvantaged and marginalised, and they share a common desire for greater freedom to control their own lives. The article argues that a major problem with the anti-EU/anti-immigrant viewpoint is that it accepts a national framework:

One of the problems with this anti-immigrant sentiment is that it accepts the idea that ‘we’ as citizens have common interests. The interests of elites and the mass of ordinary working people, however, are not the same…

We should not chain ourselves to the nation-state; we should view our political elites as they view us. They are foreign to us.

As long as political demands are framed in national terms they will favour the interests of elites, not the mass of ordinary people.

The article argues that, whatever the outcome of the referendum, those who desire human freedom should not dismiss the concerns of ordinary working people, but should continue to develop and make the case for open borders:

A Brexit will not put power in the hands of ordinary working people. Remain will keep us in the same mess we already inhabit. The issue of immigration, however, will not go away. Instead of dismissing the mass of ordinary working people as stupid, gullible racists we should recognise that they have a lot in common with immigrants. Whatever way the vote goes, we, immigrants and ordinary working people, should work hard to promote the idea that political elites are the real foreigners. Front and centre of that discussion should be the question of what kind of world do we want to live in and how do we combine to achieve our common interest in freedom.

The article is available online at:




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