A Cynics View of the EU Referendum

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Chris Napier

I don’t give a shit about the EU referendum campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from apathetic about the EU or Britain/Scotland’s place within it, but the debate provided by both official campaigns seems to be grey haired white men in suits arguing about which course of action is best for the City while attempting to appeal to a sense of British nationalism.

Neither tactic enthuses me. However there is more to the EU referendum than the mainstream campaigns.

I’m of a generation who grew up with the EU as a fact of life. I was ten when Maastricht was signed and by the time I was buying my own foreign currency, the Euro was the one stop shop for half the places I (realistically) wanted to go.

That’s not to say I’m an enthusiastic Europhile. It’s hard to overlook the way that the EU and European Central Bank have effectively subjected Greece and other economically challenged Mediterranean countries to perpetual austerity (a policy that even the IMF have conceded isn’t helpful) and it’s even harder to overlook the way the EU seems happy to send refugees – who have risked their lives to reach Europe – back to a hostile regime in Turkey.

Add to that, the concerns about the transparency and democracy of the EU and there is a somewhat compelling argument as to whether we should be involved…

The idea that the EU is basically an organization wholly welded to the cause of corporate neoliberalism, the transfer of capital and power from the people to big finance is a damned scary one, but it’s not the only way to look at it.

As a social project, the EU is wildly successful. The EU has been responsible for a raft of legislation that has improved and enshrined things like workers and human rights and combatted monopolies and corporate malpractice across the continent and also in the UK.

The EU is also a significant actor in the fact that there has not been an armed conflict in western Europe since the second world war – an unprecedented period of peace in a part of the world which has spent most of human history engaged in conflicts over territory, succession, religion and profit. The fact that British children no longer grow up expecting to end up fighting and dying in the Crown’s wars on the fields of Flanders is no small thing…

The Leave campaign implies that they desire to leave the EU to make Britain more economically successful and to get out from under an undemocratic bureaucracy. These arguments do not stand up to scrutiny.

Their version of economic success involves more freedom for corporations to exploit the poor, to remove workers rights and so on, which will undoubtedly improve profit margins but at the cost of greater social inequality. That is not acceptable.

It’s also an inescapable economic fact that leaving Europe either means we need to abide by the EU’s rules without having a voice in them or to leave the European Free Trade area and effectively put a barrier between ourselves and our biggest trading partners. Neither is a tantalizing prospect in terms of trading advantage or sovereignty.

The Leave campaign portrays the EU as a costly, unelected bureaucracy when in fact the European parliament – who must approve all EU legislation – is directly elected by a more democratic method than Westminster and the much maligned European commission can be roughly equated to the teams of unelected staff who populate Whitehall (see the Thick of It or Yes Minister for an idea of how that works…)

Basically, anyone who favours First Past the Post as an electoral system and sees no problem with the UK having the second largest unelected legislature in the world in the House of Lords cannot call the EU as ‘undemocratic.’

Of course, the Stronger In campaign isn’t much better as they prioritise the trading benefits of EU membership while smugly noting that David Cameron’s ‘concessions’ helped to preserve Britain’s special status, omitting to note that this came at the cost of much of what was best about EU membership. Corporate flag waving at it’s most crass.

In essence, we must accept that the EU is flawed but we must also accept that it has achieved a great deal in the name of social justice and tackling inequality.

If there is a problem in your neighbourhood, it’s best dealt with by joining with your neighbours to fix it, rather than growing a bigger hedge and becoming that weird house that the local kids say is owned by an axe murderer.

The EU has it’s problems but the only way to steer the continent towards a better future is to take our seat at that table.

Furthermore with the prospect of the most right wing government in modern British history having free reign to erode workers and human rights further outwith the EU, I’d far rather be inside and have the more politically diverse EU parliament have some say on how things are done here.

I’m voting to Remain because I have many European friends – French, German, Finnish, Swedish, Greek, Italian – who live and work in Scotland and I fear that if we leave, then they will not be able to remain.

I’m voting to Remain because I like having the right to travel and work freely across this continent and I want my sons to share that opportunity.

I’m voting to Remain because I believe that only a collaborative Europe is capable of challenging the serious socials, economic and climate challenges which the next decades promise – and I want Scotland to be a part of that and help to shape that conversation.

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I might be a cynic and sometimes veer towards being skeptical about the nature and aims of the EU’s institutions, but we are undoubtedly Greener In Europe, and the only way to push for a more sustainable, more socially and economically just Europe, UK and Scotland is to remain a part of that wider community.

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