Now is the time to fight to stay in Europe ... and to reform it from the left, not the right as Cameron plans
This article was originally published in the Sunday Herald on the 21st of February. Link to article here.
David Cameron has focussed his EU renegotiation deal on migration and access to welfare, issues which fire up Eurosceptics like little else. To win the vote and the argument 'Remain' campaigners must offer a positive vision for the kind of reformed Europe we can achieve and of what has been achieved so far, rather than placate those with no interest in being placated. Between the deal negotiated and the polling date chosen, the Prime Minister has not made this easy.
Real reform doesn't start by making life easier for the City of London and harder for EU citizens in the UK and yet that is exactly what Cameron has achieved. When the UK's clout at Europe's top tables could be used to defend and enhance the benefits we all enjoy as European citizens, our government has instead doubled down on a free market, low-regulation ideology, combined with an unhealthy dose of isolationism. It does not have to be this way though. Another Europe is possible.
We know where we're starting from - a European Union dominated by corporate interests and their political allies. This is however, a battle progressives can win. Indeed we have already won on a number of issues. Action has been taken on closing the gender pay gap, the Working Time Directive has benefited workers across the continent and Green MEPs have won a cap on bankers' bonuses and stronger financial regulation (now being undermined by Cameron's 'reforms'). These are just a few of Europe's progressive achievements and I'm not optimistic about their survival here if left to a Westminster government outside of the EU.
In a world of global capitalism, where goods and money cross borders freely we need international action to protect workers, communities and the environment. If we leave this debate to two competing sets of big business interests we will let down millions of people across these islands who want to be part of a radically reformed, progressive European project and hundreds of millions more across the continent who need us to stay in this fight.
Some on the Left have been so disgusted by the economic war waged on Greece that they are now considering voting to leave, even if they don't have the heart to campaign for it. This is understandable but ultimately goes against the spirit of solidarity and collective struggle which our vision for Europe is based on. It's certainly not what our friends in Greece and other crisis-hit countries want from us.
They know that the EU is constantly changing and that our fight must be to control that change, a fight which should start with the European Parliament. Currently the EU's single directly elected body is largely powerless in comparison to the Council or Commission but with even limited reform it can be a driver of radical change. For example, Green MEPs have been pushing for the parliament to have far greater oversight of the European Central Bank, including the appointment of it's president and board (currently a power held by the European Council), to prevent a repeat of Greece's treatment at their hands.
In Scotland this debate has been met with little interest until now, likely due to the overwhelming support for a Remain vote here. Complacency is something we cannot afford however. With UK-wide polls already showing a dead heat every last vote is going to count and maximising the margin of victory north of the border could well be what swings the overall result away from a Brexit. The tone of the national debate may seem dire, with both official campaigns looking set to draw from the Project Fear handbook but neither is likely to have much presence here, leaving the space open for a proudly progressive and radical Remain campaign.
For the Yes movement, we must also grapple with the knock-on effect of a Brexit on our chances of winning a second referendum on independence. Rather than be bounced into a new vote at a time not of our choosing (and one we would not necessarily win), we should do all that we can to secure a Remain vote and cement Scotland's reputation as an outward-looking nation, keen to play a positive role in Europe.
Recent experience tells us that we should not fear being bold. Politics across the world is in flux; there's a viable socialist running for US president, the radical Left are in power in Greece and Portugal and in Scotland we are entering a new era of completely realigned politics. We can harness that energy, not just to win the vote but to win the argument for a radical, reformed Europe and Scotland's place within it.