Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The EU: should British Archaeologists Vote to Stay In or Leave?

In June 2016, the UK public will get to vote whether we stay in or leave the EU. In my last topic on voting and archaeologists, I concluded that there are too few of us to have an impact on policy. However, what we stand for as a profession is something that affects everyone, namely the preservation of archaeology, informing and educating the public about its importance and how archaeology and heritage can contribute to wider society as a whole. Some of these topics look ike they're irrelevant for arhcaeology but I'll try to justify their inclusion.

Before I start I want to make a distinction between archaeology and heritage, as they overlap but are not the same. Archaeology is the study of past human activity while heritage is all inherited resources which people value for reasons beyond mere utility (or usefulness). Often these are used interchangably, particularly in the modern contexts. 


 How does archaeology and heritage come into this debate? This should be a moot point as archaeology has demonstrated time and time again that migrations are part of our human existence. Modern migrants are seemingly demonised to deflect away from a country's problems, particularly illegal migrants, who themselves may have a entirely moral and ethical justification for emigrating e.g. Syrians from ISIS, various African nationals from civil war in their own countries, Afghanistani migrants from Taliban etc. and yet have no way of proving that they are fleeing from a genuine threat e.g. no passport or id, no family in other countries etc.. The Palmyra arch erected in London in April 2016 should be evidence enough, as it demonstrates how globalised we have become. It is not only a symbol of defiance against a truly barbaric, Mad Max-style regime (ISIS, not Syria, although one could argue the case for both sides) but also (indirectly) that migrants affected by ISIS have been permanently uprooted from their homes. Although many would like to return to the Middle East (as I would expect many westerners would if a radical terrorist group associating itself with an atheist ideology started taking over capital cities across the world with a fancy social media campaign and armed guards, killing anyone who doesn't fit into their ideals of the "ubermensch" and forcing you out of your home by cutting off your power and water supplies. Yes, I just compared ISIS to the Nazis. So sue me), I could spill a lot more ink on the reactionary policies of the EU and the UK (i.e. waiting for the event to happen and then respond to it) but I would tangent from the main topic quite badly. Anyway, back to archaeology and heritage in migration. The law in the UK defines those who are stateless (very unlikely in the modern day), those are claiming asylum (can be both), amongst others (there are a lot of categories). We do have a points-based system but it is used for those who wish to live permanently. European law has the Schengen area, which allows free movement between various member states (including some countries outside the EU), which the UK hasn't been a part of since 2000.

International treaties, on the other hand, get a bit more fun. Anything to do with UNESCO, such as World Heritage Sites, The Hague Convention (1954), that makes signatories give a moral obligation to protecting cultural property in the event of armed conflict (Libya and Russia are signed up, just saying...); these wouldn't be affected. Interestingly we weren't part of the Hague Convention until recently, so no wonder the British Government doesn't share the same sympathy that the public does for the war with ISIS, it didn't have a moral obligation to protecting threatened heritage!! The Valetta Treaty (makes the conservation and enhancement of the archaeological heritage one of the goals of urban and regional planning policies) is part of the Council of Europe, not the EU, so this wouldn't be affected either. So we'd still be weighed down by moral responsibilities to World Heritage sites and to responsible planning which includes appropriate setting and character of a place, not destroying old buildings if you can help it (enshrined partly by the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, which covers listed buildings in the UK). However what might change is the opportunities provided for archaeologists and students in particular to participate in funded or volunteer schemes across Europe. The Erasmus + fund (previously the Leonardo da Vinci fund) supports students in 2 month placements through the EASE program at Grampus Heritage, excavating sites they would otherwise have to fund themselves, no easy thing when students and amateurs are often paying upwards of £1000 for 2 week's work in a soggy trench! This is also an amazing experience, meeting new friends, learning new techniques for excavation and site recording, which allow students to return to the UK with a broader knowledge of European archaeology as a whole. whether this funding would continue if we left the EU is unclear.


Far too many rules to go through here, but I'll quickly go over my case. Again, it is somewhat moot as the economy is so globally linked and complex that it is difficult to generalise. Saying how archaeological sites have improved their profitability since joining the EU is partiularly pointless as we have so many tourists from around the world.Here's an interesting argument from Current Archaeology: "Every £1 spent in local government archaeology nets about £50. Compare that multiplier of 50 with the mere 1.6 or 1.7 brought in by investing in heritage visitor attractions. The latter is valuable and necessary; but at times like these, do we want public funds to support the teashop trade around the heritage honey-pots, or to protect and understand the locally-valued history of ordinary streets and villages? If bodies like English Heritage consider questions like that, then — cruelly cut though they are — they might prioritise support for the local over preserving expertise in the centre". This statement focuses attention away from Brexit into the more fundamental issue of archaeology's existence itself. While larger sites like Stonehenge and the British Museum will always have a fair amount of money going to them from tourism and central government, all archaeology requires some level of investment and there simply isn't enough being allocated (or more worryingly, there isn't enough). Nonetheless there is little way of verifying these figures and could include other factors , but I'm fairly confident that archaeology can be profitable without compromising on the social and environmental benefits.

The percieved loss of community/democracy:

This debate overlaps a lot with community, in particular with identity in rural and urban area, the housing crisis, preservation of listed and scheduled buildings, so I'l keep it short.

One of the most worrying things about staying in the EU is that we don't vote for the people who run the EU. Therefore, if we want to stay in, we have to fight against this bureaucracy. If you truly believe in your democratic rights then you could argue that either the EU is not going to change and it is better to leave. However, you could also say that, much like the soldiers of World War 1, you voted in this referendum so that others could have the choice of using their vote later on. Delaying the inevitable? Or waiting for the right time to establish a more democratic EU? Either way the EU looks like it is facing increasing pressure to change. Archaeology shows that cultures and empires ebb and flow, wax and wane, all the time, but the reasons and causes for these rises and collapses, instabilities and stabilities are things that sometimes so complicated that we may never understand why things happened. But in the here and now we have a choice, and no matter how complex the situation is with the EU, we at least have a clear choice, yes or no.

Again, this could be all moot, as a lot of laws are made by the English. There has been a lot of emphasis on communities in the last few years. Currently there is a worrying amount of legal changes that are being discussed, including potentially altering what can and can't be built on green belt land. However, there are some positives for preserving heritage. While the archaeological legislation of PPG16 has been replaced with guidance (not statutory), there are things like the Assets of Community Value (ACV). This means that the owner of a pub must apply for planning permission in order to change the the use of the building, which buys time for a community to campaign against it if it is not in the interest of the community. According to CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), only 600 pubs had been nominated as an ACV in April 2015, while there are about 18,000 pubs in the UK! This rule was introduced in 2015, although more work can be done in making archaeology and heritage sustainable for communities to benefit from. I don't know enough to say if pubs have to pay any taxes etc. due to EU legislation but I daresay this is not an exhaustive list.

All of our listed buildings and scheduled monuments are also designated in English law, and overseen by Historic England (formerly English Heritage). No EU interference here, although one could argue that it became more of a responsibility to maintain these lists under the Valetta Treaty. As an aside, there is no right to a view under English law! This means that you can't argue that you can have your neighbour trim a hedgerow because it's blocking your view. One wonders what Capability Brown would make of this law! Again this highlights that some arguably silly laws are made by the British government, not the EU. Also dont worry too much about the disruption caused by leaving the EU, if we do leave we get about 2 years before the change becomes permanent.

To conclude: most of our laws relating to heritage and commercial working hours are actually created and upheld by the UK government, not the EU. Many of the arguments I hold to be mute, but why would I be talking about EU and the Brexit debate if I don't think it matters? Ultimately a lot of these debates have an international impact and at this time of insecurity I would say that it is better for our heritage and archaeology that we stay in the EU but reform it from the inside to better preserve our identity, especially where the democratic element is concerned. Leaving it might help us find our identity but archaeology shows that we are in a constant state of flux and culture is a malleable element, so what we percieve to be a constant (e.g. being British by drinking a certain way, being very reserved and queueing) is actually the result of hundreds of years of minor modifications of our consciousness.