As I write, the Scottish Greens are mid-way through our 2015 Conference. The largest one in the party’s history with around 700 members turning out to the SECC in Glasgow.
Amongst the policies discussed today, the party was asked on the position it should take in the upcoming EU referendum.
To my rather great surprise, there was an overwhelming sentiment that the Scottish Greens should campaign for us to remain within the European Union. I suspected that we would come out for this position but I was rather taken aback by the sheer level of support.
We will, however, be forming our own campaign, separate from the “official” UK “In” campaign, leveraged as it is on Tory business “leaders”, millionaires and the results of an as yet unknown Tory “renegotiation” of the terms of the UK membership.
Some within the party indeed remarked that if that renegotiation is “successful”, by David Cameron’s metric, then it will almost certainly come at the cost of a rolling back of the EU’s protection of our Trades Union rights, our rights to minimum wages and working hours protections, our environmental standards and perhaps even our very human rights.
This would not be conductive to the kind of Europe, or even the kind of UK, that we want to be a part of.
From our perspective, the “Out” campaign (Did you notice that both campaigns are likely to be headed by millionaire Lords?) will be nothing more than all of those changes and worse. Whilst many of us are horrified by the prospect of secret deals such as TTIP we recognised that leaving the EU because of it will offer us no protection from it. Not only are the EFTA nations of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (as well as Switzerland) likely to be directly affected by large parts, if not the totality, of TTIP, they have much more limited scope than the EU to affect or amend the treaty.
Nor would even staying out of EFTA be a protection. Leaving these groups entirely merely gives the UK the right to negotiate such trade deals on it’s own, something which the Tories are very much salivating at the prospect of.
One delegate at the conference put it best for me. Neither campaign is offering a vision attractive to the progressive voice we can provide. We simply cannot stand back and allow that campaign to offer voters nothing more than the choice between right-wing, neoliberal incorporationism and right-wing, neoliberal isolationism. We need to hear from others as well.
This is why the Greens shall not stand side-by-side with the Tories but shall instead form a distinct campaign alongside other progressive voices and the voice of the greater Green movement across Europe.
The EU is much more than a free trade zone. It’s much more than a tally of our expenses versus our receipts. It’s actually much more than the technocratic nightmare that it sometimes appears to be.
It is more than a free trade zone. It is the opportunity for workers to freely move their trade and to bring jobs and services to anywhere which needs them. It is the opportunity for Scotland in particular to attract the brightest and best Europe has to offer and to train and educate them with world class facilities. When they graduate, some will stay and work and build the next generation of businesses (So long as we can stop the Tories from locking them up for the temerity of trying to do so). Some will return ‘home’ and instead forge inseparable international links with Scotland which, surely, will be to our benefit.
It is more than a tally of our expenses and receipts. The “Out” campaign will crow loudly about how much we “give” to Europe in cash terms compared to how much we get back. We’re a net contributor to the EU in those terms, it’s true. But we need to think about how what we get back actually comes back.
Thousands of Scottish farmers rely on Common Agricultural Policy funding for their livelihood. Many public works such as the £18 million European Regional Development Grant given to Orkney and Shetland a few years ago to boost their renewable capacity. Every single school which benefits from the European School Milk Scheme feels the impact of our membership in the improved health and wellbeing of our children.
Now, it is strictly true that if we left the EU then we would have our membership money instead to spread around but, as the Out campaign themselves have noted “We probably wouldn’t spend it on the same things they would.”. I do hope that they articulate just what they would spend it on instead.
It is much more than a faceless technocracy. I believe that this is where the Green vision for Europe will be at its most valuable. There is much wrong with the organisation of the EU (as there is very much wrong with the organisation of the UK!) and the treatment of some of the member states in recent months has been enough to shock even the most enthusiastic Europhile but there is much potential there too.
There is still hope within the wider Green network as well as within the Green/EFA group of progressive and socially democratic parties (including the SNP) that the current neoliberal tide of politics can be reversed and reforms to create a more socially just and environmentally sustainable European Union enacted. The Green vision of Europe involves building on a broad sense of European identity to allow regions, cities and communities within the EU to forge their own links, independent of national and supra-national government, with similar groups across the continent. This is already occurring in Germany, France, Italy and other countries where that sense of Europeness is stronger than is here. I can’t see it occurring if we retreat to insular isolationism.
I must add here though that my recent travels around Europe have revealed something rather profound to me. Where ever I’ve went, that sense of the European, whilst strong, has never overpowered national identity. They appear to sit beside, rather than on top of, each other in a complimentary fashion. The borders might be invisible but there is still a sense, however subtle, that you have translated from one nation to another but, simultaneously, you’re still in Europe. This is felt, acknowledged and even celebrated. We could learn a lot from this experience.
It is still very early days for this campaign and there is much still to be decided and thrashed out as far as just how far our vision for Europe will go but I have no doubt that you will be hearing more from it soon.
In the meantime, the Green/EFA Group and the Green European Foundation have prepared a very interesting and detailed booklet on what the EU is, how it was formed and how we play our part within it. Please consider this your primer on the campaign ahead. Too many of us know far too little about the European Union and without even the basics, we cannot hope to make an informed choice on our future. You can get your copy of Europe for Beginners by clicking the picture or link below.