This article was published on the Dale&Co. website
Let's Stop Dreaming of Being Swiss
14 December 2011
Switzerland is one of the best countries in the world. But Britain it isn’t. The dream of Britain becoming Switzerland plus nuclear weapons and a seat at the UN Security Council is just that – a dream Here’s why.
In the film version of Graham Greene’s “The Third Man”, Orson Welles, makes the point that “after 500 years of history all Switzerland has produced is the cuckoo clock.” That was inaccurate and unfair. The cuckoo clock comes from southern Germany, not Switzerland. And the history of Switzerland is full of far more turmoil and conflict – including a civil war in 1848 and the army opening fire to kill and wound scores of unemployed workers in Geneva in 1933 – than is commonly realised.
A Swiss anti-fascist shot dead the leader of the Nazi party in Davos in 1936 and the stability in Switzerland is the product of an iron discipline that arises from endless consensus and compromise. But once a decision is arrived at it is accepted. “What is not banned, is obligatory “ is a Swiss dictum. There is endlessly minute regulation from the number of potatoes that can be grown – all much more generously subsidised than the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy allows – to rules about running a bath or flushing the lavatory after 10 pm.
The core secret of Switzerland are the cantons which have control over taxation, education, policing and other swathes of policy which in London are controlled by Whitehall. The full title of the canton of Geneva is “the state and republic of Geneva” and Swiss cantons are very clear about their identity and independence.
If British Eurosceptics want every county in England to decide its own tax levels it might have some idea of what their vision of a Swiss Britain might be. In 1938, the Swiss equivalent of the CBI and TUC signed what is called the “Peace Treaty” which enshrine trade union rights in exchange for unions agreeing to avoid strikes.
It is this industrial peace rather than the legendary bank secrecy laws that have made Switzerland rich. Industry takes up 29 per cent of the Swiss economy more than twice the share of British manufacturing. Swiss watchmakers did not roll over in face of cheaper watches flooding in from Asia. Instead they rolled up their sleeves, massively re-organised the industry into luxury watch-makers and the mass selling Swatch. This is the Swiss secret. The application of mind to matter to produce a product that becomes a world-beater on both price and quality.
Vince Cable wants to rebalance the economy. He will have a long way to go before he can match the Swiss share of manufacturing in the economy. The devalued British pound has done little to help exports compared to the over-valued Swiss franc – now pegged to the Euro. Swiss banks have to have much higher capital reserves than the City would ever accept. As for banking secrecy, as Nick Shaxson, argues in his exposé of tax havens, “Treasure Islands”, the world centre for funny money transit and preservation is the City, the English trust system and the network of Cayman and other islands protected by Britain to allow companies and individuals wriggle out of paying tax.
Would we accept in Britain the permanent coalition which has awarded the Swiss Socialists a quarter of all seats in the Federal Cabinet since 1959? Do we want referendums on the design of religious buildings as the Swiss organised to humiliate Muslims and their mosques with minarets? The share of immigrants in the Swiss population stands at 15 per cent. Albanian is the fourth language in Switzerland as more Kosovan asylum-seekers were accepted there than any other EU country. UK’s ugly anti-foreigner outfit Immigration Watch would explode with rage if it contemplated Geneva where nearly half the population was not born in Switzerland.
I lived and worked in Switzerland for more than a decade. Two of my children were born there and I love its culture, cuisine and mountains. Income tax was low but property, defence, and cantonal taxes plus astronomic health and dental insurance costs took away just as much of my pay as if I had stayed in Britain. The Swiss countryside is a delight but the flats and houses are the smallest in Europe.
Every Swiss law has to be in full compliance with EU directives and the Swiss pay a billion francs to Brussels to help new member states. So the idea that there is a non-EU Alpine heaven on offer to Britain is nonsense. Let Switzerland be Switzerland. What is to be done with Britain is a different question.