The EU’s capture by neoliberalism is the reason we must fight to remain

By Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens Co-convener

Two years ago, as the Scottish Greens’ lead candidate in the European Elections, I argued for a European Union that focused on social justice and peace. Our campaign slogan was ‘a just and welcoming Scotland’ - we put our principles of peace, social justice and democracy, and our support for open borders and immigration front and centre.

We knew then, as now, that the EU needs reform. It is not progressive in its political or economic outlook, and not working economically for many. It has clearly been captured by and for neo-liberal and corporate interests. The EU is often inward looking and exclusive and it can be racist and xenophobic. But despite all of this, I will be voting to remain.

There is a positive case for Scotland’s membership of an EU that is radically different to the one being discussed by both sides of the very male, very blue debate we’ve seen so far. But that positive case for staying in Europe cannot be made in isolation from the political context in which the vote is taking place.

That political context means that a vote to leave will be a victory for the right. The momentum in this campaign comes from a right wing case that says we must shut our borders, that we must reinvigorate the Empire, that we should embark on colonial style actions that are profoundly racist and that we must make Britain great again. That fills me with dread.

The right wing case to leave is the dominant narrative, presented by people who think that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, and that that is a good thing. As an immigrant from post-colonial Southern Africa I simply cannot side with those who hark back to the the 19th century for their political direction. Instead, we need to reclaim a sense of collective solidarity, of building something better: a reformed, democratic, transparent, and citizen-led Europe.

Context aside, there are many green and socialist reasons to support a remain vote. The freedom of movement of people, with the freedom to live where you wish and move when you wish, is one of the most important aspects of the European Project. Breaking down barriers - including state borders - is a positive thing. It means that we can accept and welcome others into our society, to enrich our lives socially, culturally and economically and offer opportunities for all. As someone who sees education as transformative, I value the free movement of students and academics, and, dare I say it, knowledge that the EU enables. Of course freedom of movement isn’t just about people moving to Scotland but it’s about the freedom of people in Scotland to travel, study, work and retire anywhere in Europe.

In our increasingly globalised world, there are many problems that nation states cannot tackle alone. Pollution and environmental destruction and the harm caused by the excesses of a financial system out of control must be addressed collectively.

Regulation of our financial system has been held back by the very forces who now wish to leave the EU. As greens and socialists, we stand for the taming of the global power of capital, and the international influence of the banks. We cannot do this in isolation, and our response to the free-market fundamentalism that has taken hold across the continent must be collective, transnational action, not separating ourselves off into almost certain right wing oblivion.

I also want to safeguard cross-border laws on workers rights, on women’s rights, on human rights. These rights have been hard fought, and it is because of the EU they are now enshrined in the laws of every country in Europe. It is because of the EU that temporary and part time workers have something approaching equal rights with full time workers. It is because of the EU that we can have international consultation with trade unions on rights for carers and for stronger protection for working mothers. It is because of the EU that we have coordinated action against sexual harassment, child sexual exploitation, human trafficking and violence against women and girls. Many of these hard-won rights are under threat from a resurgent right wing in the UK. It is our membership of the EU that protects us from that attack.

Fundamentally, I am in favour of the EU because the whole point of it is to change things, to redefine our relationships with power, to share. Going back to its inception, nearly 70 years ago, this is what it was all about – creating peace and understanding, defining democracy anew. The EU’s capture by neoliberalism is exactly the reason we must fight to remain: we, the people, must take back our economy and renew our democracy.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Herald