The Commonwealth Games kick off today in Glasgow, and in celebration I thought it might be worthwhile looking at what this group of nations, held together by the fact that they were all once British colonies and in many cases not much else, and uncovering some little discussed facts about the whole thing. We often hear from the Eurosceptic right about the “beauty of the English speaking world”, so let’s see how much of that image stacks us to reality, shall we? After all, with the idea of a referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU seemingly on the cards, and the alternative spoken about often involving turning back towards the Commonwealth as our “new” trading block, the whole thing bears examining.
- Can you guess how many Commonwealth countries there are in which homosexuality is legal? Just for clarity, I’m not talking about equal marriage, civil partnerships, any of that, we’re just talking about how many countries within the CoN there are in which it is not a criminal offence to be a practising homosexual. First off I should make it a little easier and let you know that there are 54 Commonwealth countries in total (55 technically, but Zimbabwe is “on probation”). Have a punt? 15. Fifteen. Out of 54. In which you will not go to prison for being gay. That’s just over a quarter.
- Another question: in how many Commonwealth countries is the death penalty still practiced? Answer: 28. Again, out of 54. So less than half of Commonwealth countries have abolished capital punishment (just as a side note: abolition of the death penalty is a prerequisite of joining the EU, and no EU country can bring it back in).
- The difference between GDP per capita across the whole of the Commonwealth and the same figure across the EU is striking. Within the Commonwealth of Nations as a whole, the average yearly salary is £2,604. Across the EU, and this includes Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, all of the poorer nations within the Union, the same figure is £21,315. That is just over eight times higher.
- As I just illustrated, the Commonwealth is mostly made up of very poor countries, not to mention an uncomfortable amount of them being quasi-failed states, with a handful of First World economies thrown in. It is worth examining those richer countries and their priorities before we seriously consider the idea of the Commonwealth as a “replacement” for the European Union. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all interested first and foremost in geographical considerations and what can be further gained from trading partnerships within their surroundings. For Canada it is about the US mostly, but also trying to diversify, looking east towards China. For the Aussies and Kiwis, it is trading with Asia and particularly up and comers such as Indonesia, now finally under (fingers crossed anyhow) decent governance. All of them have a complicated love/hate relationship with Britain, based on shared history, the feeling of abandonment in the 60’s and 70’s, and the fact that a significant portion of the population of all of them have no familial or ethnic ties to the UK and resent being made to feel like less of a citizen for this reason. All this to consider before we get into the real practical details, like the fact that there are protectionist forces in these countries which are pulling against free trade deals with any European countries, never mind spending inordinate amounts of time trying to nail down an agreement with one single nation a long way away.
- The Commonwealth Games are actually a good thing. In fact, they are probably the only thing about the whole setup that’s worth saving. So I close by wishing all of the athletes who will be competing across the next week and a half the very best of luck.