We should stay in the EU and protect its mission of freedom

THIS week we witnessed the people of Greece take a kicking from the Troika bullies. These representatives of a neoliberal status quo, which punishes citizens for the inevitable consequences of bankers’ irresponsibility and government complicity, have cast a dark cloud over Europe.

I, like many others, have begun scratching my head, searching for answers to the question facing us now – how do we achieve a fairer, sustainable future within this EU?

Thinking about the best route to take, ‘in’ or ‘out’, my compass is still firmly pointing toward membership of this social-political union. Not because I have no concerns or fears about the Troika forces of darkness and their capitalist brutality. I do.

But what remains greater than my fears are my hopes. I refuse to be forced into becoming the generation that lost Europe to the free-market consensus set by Cameron, Merkel, and the “pint in hand” ruse that is Farage.

Our exit would not be based on progressive criticism. It would be a victory for anti-immigrant, anti-worker, reactionary British nationalism, only serving to isolate us and poison our domestic politics.

As Mhairi Black MP pointed out in her maiden speech this week, referencing Tony Benn, “what we need right now are signposts, signposts which stand true and tall and principled”, setting the vision and direction for a better society.

I believe we can, and must be guided by the signpost of a better Europe. A Europe to foster hope, engagement and a future we can believe in.

The first time I remember hearing Europe described as a “peace project”, was by an Icelander, and fellow democracy activist Bjarni Jonsson. I had never heard the expression or thought about it like that before. He passionately advocated why many Icelanders continue to push to be part of such a project – you can do more to advance it when you’re part of it.

Like many others, he believes in the vision of the EU as a beacon of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights – now under threat of being hijacked for good by free market fanatics.

Recognising that the EU (as it is) brings challenges, it’s important to also recognise membership has benefited us. Progressive policies bringing about environmental protections and workers rights often shield us from the UK Government’s more extreme intentions. The Working Time Directive is one example of advancement of our rights under the EU’s watch.

At this pivotal moment in history we must defend the values and principles at the heart of the European Union: free movement of people, security and justice. Now is the time to protect and expand these core functions of Europe and follow an alternative path to protect people and planet.

The vision of Europe Greece signed up to when joining the EU was one of democracy, enlightenment values, connection and human rights. The very same vision we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them on now, one we all must fight to defend.

The tension we are recognising more and more is between democracy and capitalism – described by Patrick Harvie MSP as “an economic system which takes relentlessly from the global commons and contributes little or nothing back”. We are not defending European democracy by abandoning our European cousins. We are not showing solidarity if we walk away from our only chance to fight their corner with them.

We can step back and let Europe be sold down the river to rampant free marketeers for good, or we can engage with an alternative, led by a connected movement of citizens and progressive politicians that believe another Europe is possible.

The new politics of Europe is already on its way. The rise of people-led movements in Spain and Greece are the signposts of a fight-back that we’re a crucial part of. People across Europe are hungry for a different kind of politics – one that speaks to our hopes, and shifts our systems and society towards a future beyond debt, unemployment and inequality.

Closer to home, we can already see from this week’s polling that the Greens could be on course for 12 MSPs at Holyrood next year. That’s 12 people with a genuine passion to speak out against a status quo failing the many, and speak up for a future that paves the way for a Scotland and Europe with economic, environmental, and social justice at its core.

In the spirit of Spain’s Podemos (‘We Can’), we across Europe can, and must stand up for an alternative European project, showing it is possible to co-operate across borders to defeat austerity and xenophobia, and to promote peace and sustainability, whilst pushing to make the Europe of our intentions become the Europe we’re a part of.

Zara Kitson is C0-convener of Glasgow Greens, and is a regional MSP candidate for Glasgow in 2016