Europe is currently in need of a fresh story and new arguments. Politicians in Scotland and in the UK have an inherent advantage to those who’s political sanctuary is the halls of Brussels and Strasbourg, an advantage that political pundits often fail to recognise – they have visibility. It is difficult to comprehend that European institutions affect our every day lives when we rarely see its politicians given the same time as the familiar faces of British politics. However, the European Union is more more than its Brusselians. With time, work, and patience, the EU can also be more than the sum of its parts.
It is a brutal fact that Scotland is in Europe, and by geography we are bound to our European neighbours. It is an institutional fact that Scotland is in the EU. ‘Should Scotland remain in the European Union?’ is an institutional question. Internal Conservative party fragmentation is the sole reason this question has been thrust upon us so hastily. Yet this is a debate that we cannot afford to approach half heartedly. I asked Corri Wilson, the MP for Ayr, Carrick, and Cumncok if she thought that Scotland should remain a member of the EU:
“Absolutely. Trade is so important to Scotland, and the EU enhances our position in international trade. There are also many Scots living in Europe. However I do also believe that Scots should have a more influential voice at the European level. Many Conservatives have made it clear that they would like to leave, we have a Conservative government in Westminster that Scottish people never voted for. This puts Scotland’s EU membership at serious at risk.”
I also asked her what role Scotland should play in the EU in the future.
“Scotland should play a far more leading role in Europe, we have more to offer in terms of how Scotland is run at the EU level. Scotland should be equal members with our European counterparts.”
Almost as factual as Scotland’s European geography is Europe’s economic importance to Scotland, and vice versa. The Out campaign so far has chosen to build its case firmly on economic grounds. They wrongly claim that trade with the EU comes at the cost of trade with the rest of the world. But Scotland is well placed as an English speaking country with unprecedented access to the single market, international investment would be sorely absent if we were to find ourselves out of the single market. I asked Toni Giugliano, SNP candidate for Edinburgh Western and Scots Italian, what benefits he believes the EU brings to Scotland:
“There are economic, political, and social benefits to Scots as EU citizens. The EU Allows people to move from one country to another, which is part of the four freedoms of the single market. I would like to see more Scots making use of their EU citizenship, like using the Erasmus project. We should be simplifying taxation systems across the EU so companies can more easily do business across Europe, although we do have more and more businesses setting up in other EU countries. We need to raise awareness of our different rights as EU citizens whether that be setting up a business or retiring abroad. There are over 1 million Brits living abroad- many of them retired. The Spanish health system has been paying a considerable amount of money on healthcare for British elderly people, and it is the Spanish tax payer paying for that. No matter where you are you can use your rights. The more people who make use of their EU citizenship the more people will see the benefits of the EU.”
Of course the EU is in need of desperate change. I asked Toni what he believes Scotland can do in the future to reform the EU.
The phrase ‘The EU needs reform’ is one of the most overused phrases in politics today. My kind of idea of reform is completely different from a Tory’s idea of reform is. David Cameron’s reform is a scaled back Europe. He wants rid of the social charter, rid of environmental laws, he wants no interference with banking or the City of London. He wants a Europe only of business and trade. His vision of reform is totally different from Scotland’s. Ours is about strengthening protection, ensuring we protect the social charter, ensuring better fishing, ensuring structural funds focusing on need, poverty, job creation and youth unemployment. We should be strengthening the solidarity aspects of the union. Countries sometimes need support. The UK could apply for emergency funding from an EU fund to help tackle the floods. But has refused to apply to this. It is there to deal with natural problems, this is an example of how the EU could help us.
The principle of solidarity has to be reinforced. That is what we mean by reform in Scotland. The reality is that that the only workplace laws we have really come from the EU. This is the big dilemma for left wing Scots, David Cameron wants to reform the EU, but if we are excluded from these laws, why stay in the EU? Leave or accept Cameron’s version of the EU? This is a challenge for SNP, Greens and RISE. I’ll argue that we are benefited by the EU economically. However I would also argue that the reform of the EU would leave us with a scaled back membership after David Cameron’s process. His process will leave us as second class European citizens as we will be in the EU without any of its social benefits. In my view that leaves us with a material change for a second independence referendum.
Yanis Varoufakis said that ‘reform is too mild a word’ and that we must ‘transform’ the Eurozone. Where the Eurozone countries must do this for economic reasons, all member countries must transform the institutions for political reasons. Those who support the EU must make visible the great advantages the EU offers us. This will ensure that the organisation is partnered with a public. This would fundamentally strengthen the trust between the European citizens and the institutions. But it is vital we also recognise the EU’s faults – from TTIP to the deep seeded problems with European democracy. There is solidarity in democracy, and only Europe’s far-right would benefit from the economic turmoil that could follow Brexit.
I urge those who wish to campaign for the EU to look beyond the ambitions of the ‘IN’ campaign. Those who are supportive of the European Union must not make the mistake that Westminster pro-EU politicians have made, that mistake is arguing for a weaker British membership while failing to articulate Europe’s great benefits. These pro-EU politicians have failed even to argue the economic benefits of being part of the world’s largest economy. Supporters of the EU should argue for a Europe authorised by national fraternity to create meaningful change on the continental level. There is no escaping our geographic future, we are tied irrevocably to Europe by chance.
Our common future alone is not enough, it must be seen. We must promote the benefits that the EU brings to its citizens. We must understand that bare minimum membership is worse than nothing. We must challenge the institutions with a hopeful, optimistic, European vision. The benefits of being full European citizens must be promoted whilst we drive a discussion on what European citizenship means. Being an EU member state provides us with economic security, the opportunity to live, work, and travel across the continent, and provides us with financial advantages that other nations can only envy.
The European Union must be viewed for what it is- a public. Much of the showmanship of the institutions have lacked a chorus, those who call for a better union often fail to show how it can be improved. As a result Europe’s political capital regrettably lays with the premiers of member states, and its legislative ability lays with an undemocratic body. To create a better Europe we must promote the role of the European Parliament, only then can Europe’s sores be healed by the legitimising force of democracy. When active decision making takes place, Europe’s problems of visibility will be overcome.
The Scottish Left have serious reflection to do if they are to come to a meaningful, positive message that is based firmly in achievable goals. I would like to warn all Scots of the danger in dealing in absolutes, the Eurogroup’s treatment of Greece was reprehensible, but we must also remember that our only workplace laws come from the EU. We must remember that it’s the world’s largest aid provider, and it is the world’s largest trade provider. Let’s build more of the good and less of the bad.
It’s tempting to reject the European Union in its time of economic fragility. It may be easier on the short term to leave in its time of moral and political weakness. These options however are based on an academic tradition that is out of date with any modern understanding of Europe. There is no identifiable and compelling story of Europe in the present day. Scots can play a role in creating this story, but we must cultivate a far more mature debate first. Scots can help build a better Europe, but we must organise if we wish to do so.
Picture from Thijs ter Haar