I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the month “June, 2016”

Avoiding the Obvious



Last week I wrote about the EU referendum. I wrote about how it was not a contradiction in terms for someone who, like me, supports an independent Scotland to vote for remaining in the EU. I spoke about the power of the collective and about the differences between the UK and the EU.

What I did not speak about was racism and the migrant debate. I did not do so because I know that many people who are voting for the UK to leave the EU are not racists. I also know that there are concerns about immigration held by people I know well. Ordinary people, mums, friends, colleagues. I know that concern is not necessarily racist. I thought about it, I thought about how hurtful it would be if people felt that I was tarring them with the racism brush, relationships could be damaged in the real world and I would hate for that to be the case. And so I avoided the issue.

I was wrong to do so.

Last week was profoundly depressing. The “Breaking Point” advert for UKIP had made me shake my head in disbelief. I watched film of Nigel Farage suggesting violence was an option if we voted to remain in the EU and it placed an icy hand on my shoulder. I could only watch in horror as the terrible terrible events of Thursday unfolded on the television in my hotel room. At the news of the death of Jo Cox I found myself in tears and not only of sadness and futility but of fear too.

The evidence is piling up to suggest that Thomas Mair was a home grown, right wing, fascist terrorist. His statement in court when asked his name appears to confirm this and added to reports of nazi regalia allegedly found at his home and a grainy picture bouncing around the internet of someone who may, or may not be him, standing behind a “Britain First” banner, add weight to the theory of a far right terrorist. (The irony of Britain First complaining bitterly on social media that one man’s actions should not define a whole group, when they do exactly that with Muslims, appeared to be lost on them, if not to the wider world of social media) The suggestion is that his views have been nurtured and allowed to grow and develop in the political environment that includes the hate fuelled, fear driven focus on foreigners which has characterised much of the press reporting over the last couple of years and has been apparent in the last few weeks of the EU campaigning. I do not know if that is true, or if we will discover some other reasons for the attack on Jo Cox. It will not be up to me to decide on that.

What I know is that most, if not all of my own leave voting friends feel the same way as I do about the issues I have just mentioned. I know many of them who are Labour voters, Labour members who will have cried  when they heard the news about Jo Cox. I know that my wonderful friends do not espouse the racist or the xenophobic views we have been hearing in the press and on television over the last few weeks. I know that many of them have embraced #lexit, rather than #brexit. And whilst they advocate leaving the EU, voting leave does not make them racists or fascists.

Much has been written about migrants, not simply during the referendum but over the last few years. The Internet has stoked fears over Daesh, over refugees fleeing the terrible violence of their homes, fears even of EU migrants coming here to work. Right wing organisations have manipulated and shared films of cricket crowds and suggested they are Muslims celebrating the Paris deaths , hiding amongst them terrorists who will flood our streets, our public services and bring death to our front doors.

The Leave campaign has been characterised by the demand for Britain to “take back control” . IT has been repeated ad nauseum about all sorts of things but is primarily about taking control  of our borders by preventing people from the EU coming here and by ignoring our responsibilities to refugees. We have been encouraged to see our country and ourselves as too good for the likes of them. They portray Britain outside the EU as strong, unconquerable by foreign invasions, impregnable against the world pretending this is not isolationist, xenophobic rhetoric but  “British values” – desirable and necessary if we are to avoid the catastrophic effect that too many “foreigners” have on our society.

These voices have been shouting out for so long that people believe what is wrong in our society is the fault of poor people trying to come to live here, work here and build their lives here. The media, after all tell us that, and people do not look behind the rhetoric and see what is really happening.  They believe that immigration is out of control, with EU migrant workers claiming benefits left, right and centre and costing us millions of OUR pounds, when the truth is they contribute to our economy more than they take out; they believe the reason that we have insufficient public housing or problems in the NHS is because people from Poland are taking all our houses and Romanians are filling up our hospitals when the reasons for these failures are that we have had governments for years who have failed to build enough social housing and are failing to invest in the NHS properly,largely because because they are ideologically opposed to it.

And so we have Boris, and Farage and the voices of intolerance telling us to vote to leave the EU and it will all go away. Billions of OUR pounds will come back and will be philanthropically spent on the NHS, hospitals and housing. And lurking behind these slightly bumbling, almost foolish caricatures of cheer leaders and their ridiculous antics on the river Thames are the dark, dark voices of racists and fascists, holding their breath for a time when they can cheer at the closing of our borders to immigrants.

And yet, THAT is not what the majority of my friends who are voting to leave the EU are voting leave for. They are absolutely not voting for the isolation of the UK as a tool to ban all foreigners from our shores, to “take back control” of our borders, to, suspect and demonise the Turks as they attempt to gain access to the EU. They are not xenophobes, voting for the racist bile or the fascist ideology that we see on Twitter. They are voting for the fight against austerity and neoliberalism, the fight against “fortress Europe” and TTIP, the fact that voting leave could bring the Tory party down. They ask us to imagine a Britain outside of the EU with a Labour government not a Tory one stating that “it would wipe the smile off David Cameron’s smug rich privileged face. Possible worth it just in itself.”

They are wrong.

A vote to leave the EU would not in itself be a vote for right wing ideals, nor am I suggesting that it will usher in a fascist government in double quick time although some believe that it will. It would, however, result in those politicians, those newspapers espousing right wing views on immigration, clamouring to rid us of our human rights, desperate to drive out trade unionism, not caring one iota for people dying whilst waiting for the country they love to look after them in their old age, those politicians those newspapers – becoming even more of a dominant voice.

A vote for leave may mean leave will win. Your  vote will have contributed to that and all that comes after. Your vote will have helped to give a legitimacy to the vile views and behaviours we have seen in the press and in our politics. The views expressed by that disturbing  UKIP poster, the views of Boris and his manipulative lies by omission will be given validity. A win for leave will bolster newspapers like the Daily Express and the Daily Mail and encourage them to increase their hate filled headlines.  A win for leave would allow these people to say “See, we were right. The British people have spoken”. Despite good people with honourable intent, jumping up and down at the back saying “But that’s not what we meant” the voices for a tolerant, fair society will be drowned out by ugly voices shouting for  the immigrants to leave. Your anti-racist stance will be trampled upon and there will be nothing that you can do about that. They will claim that the votes they receive – your vote- the vote you made with the best intentions, with your ideals, your own choices and your heartfelt beliefs, they will claim it as theirs. They will claim you as part of the “Millions of Britons who have spoken up for taking back control”. They will enact policies to isolate Britain, to exclude people, to withdraw human and other rights, they will enact those policies in the name of all those who voted to leave – in your name.  When that happens you may remember last week and you may well be ashamed. You may feel that it was worth it. Whatever you are fighting for, that fight may go on but it will be less effective, less respected, less attractive because you helped the worst voices in our society speak louder.

I should have said this last week but I didn’t. My voice is shaking, but I’m saying it now.

A contradiction in Terms? 

Drapeaux des Etats membre de l'Union européenne à 28 pays et drapeau européen (au 1er juillet 2013)

Is support for an Independent Scotland incompatible with support for remaining in the EU? This seems to be a question that some of my  friends can’t get their heads round. “How can you support the UK remaining in the EU but want Scotland to be an Independent country?” they ask. Love them as I do I find it difficult to understand why they don’t “get it”. Add to that the patronising guff written by people like Kenny Farquharson in last weeks’s Times where he says that he has “inhabited the mind of an SNP voter” by staring at the cover of Alex Salmond’s book ( I have never read it) wearing the I’m with Nicola wristband ( I don’t have one) reading the National from front to back ( I haven’t seen a copy of the National in months) and I’m getting the feeling that there are none so blind as those who will not see.

So, here for any one who is interested here is why I believe that it is absolutely not a contradiction to be pro EU and pro Scottish independence and why it makes absolute sense to this particular SNP voter, member and someone who last year, stood for selection as an SNP candidate to vote to remain in the EU.

The first thing to point out is the difference between the UK and the EU. The EU is a union of Independent Countries. Each country retains its own parliaments, its own legal system. We each have our own distinct societal differences and our own systems of elections and governments. There are Kings and Queens, Presidents and Chancellors; there are governments elected by first past the post elections and by proportional representation; there are coalitions between parties in some countries and overall control in others; countries have their own health systems, their own education systems, their own social security systems; some have nationalised industries – railways, energy, water – some don’t. Each country has the ability to choose their own way of doing things because they are all independent countries in their own right.

In Scotland as part of the United Kingdom we do not have that. We do not have the ability to choose our taxation systems, our social security systems. We can fiddle around the edges if the WM government allows us to do so, as with the Scotland Act and its transfer of powers, but we can’t change the systems in a wholesale manner. We can’t have an immigration policy which benefits us and which allows families like those in Dingwall and Laggan, currently at risk of deportation, or the vet in Perth who has already been deported, to stay here in Scotland because we want them and need them. We have to do what WM tells us to do and we can only change what WM say we can.

That is not a union of equals. Where one party in an arrangement holds power over the other, that is not equality. In the UK,  money made in Scotland goes to the exchequer and some of it is given back to Scotland depending on what is decided by the WM government. That is not an equal relationship.

Throughout the Independence referendum the SNP advocated for an Independent Scotland to be part of the EU. The No campaign accused Independence supporters of isolationism but for the majority of us the desire was not to close the doors on the rest of the world or on the rest of the UK, but was to have our own distinct voice which would begin to be heard as part of the EU and, more widely with the rest of the world.

An Independent Scotland was for me, and for many others, about the opportunity it would have given us to create, grow and develop a fairer, better society for everyone who lives here and outward looking democracy, fully engaged in shaping the Europe of tomorrow. It was never about shutting the borders or cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. The reinstatement of Hadrian’s wall and border controls at Gretna, were only ever threatened by those who opposed Scottish Independence and are echoed in the Leave campaign focus on immigration today.

So I wanted an Independent Scotland to be outward looking and inclusive. I wanted us to be a part of the wider world in our own right, sitting at the table involved in negotiations that affect Scotland and adding our voice to the progressive voices already there and those who might be there in the future. It makes perfect sense therefore that I would want the UK to remain in the EU and to continue to do all those things as the UK.  There is no contradiction.

I believe that Scotland and the UK are better off as part of The EU. Kevin Farquharson suggests that we must be confused by the fact that many of the arguments for and against Scottish Independence are being rehashed for the EU referendum. Does it confuse me? Nope. They were lies then and they are lies now. For heavens sake!!!! Leave are telling us today that we will HAVE to use the Euro if we vote remain, and remain are telling us that Pensions will be at risk if we vote out. I keep feeling like I need to apologise to my Turkish friends for the absolute utter shite which is being bandied about by the Leave campaign about Turkish people. I’m not confused at all, it’s all rubbish and they forget that people on both sides of the Indy Ref debate learned to look beyond the hype and the lies and half truths. We learned how to make our own minds up. We absolutely know that the UK would do ok economically both within and outside the EU. We are not a poor country and we might struggle a wee bit to start with but we would get by. Many of the things that matter however, might not survive.

The EU has built on our existing workers rights, human rights, equality rights to ensue that we have the same rights across the EU. It has created a Europe where trade unions can work together for the good of all. It has enforced action on climate change, health and safety and the rights of the individual. I have no confidence that those rights and regulations would stay or continue to be developed if Britain was outside the EU. Carolyn Leckie, writing in the National on Monday said that we would see  ” a bonfire of pregressive legislation on worker’s rights and environmental protection whilst driving foreigners back across the English Channel” I think she is right. My belief that we need the influence of the EU extends to both parliaments – Holyrood and Westminster, and politicians of every hue, including the yellow of the SNP.

Some of my friends have said that they would vote leave in a heartbeat if we had any chance of getting a Labour Government. I don’t agree. Whilst it is true to say that many workers rights were brought in on the back of Trade union and Labour Party activism, those days are long gone. If we consider equal pay we see a clear example of the way the EU has driven forward improvements and forced change and why a Labour Government would not change my mind.

The Equal Pay act was passed in 1970 but it did not include equal pay for work of equal value. This meant that many women working in the public sector particularly, were not entitled to be paid the same as men doing jobs of a similar value which were not the same jobs.  This did not change until the EU took enforcement action in 1980s.

Despite the 20 odd years since this happened, we have only  won this battle in Scotland in the last year or so when Glasgow Council and North Lanarkshire Council finally accepted they had to meet their obligations. Despite being required to do so under the law these Labour councils refused. This led to years of campaigning and legal action to force them to do the right thing and gives the lie to the suggestion that the Labour Party would be somehow guaranteed to be a better option.

There are many examples like this. The hated TTIP is put forward as a good reason for the UK to go it alone.. That ignores the fact that the only objections to TTIP are coming from other countries within the EU. France is refusing to support TTIP at present  but our WM government is opening the doors and waving it through. Despite calls to exempt public services and the NHS particularly, the Tory government is not prepared to do so. And if we think that TTIP is appalling then imagine what a trade agreement between just us and the US might look like. It’s nice to think we would see a Prime Minister standing up for Britain like Hugh Grant did in Love Actually but this is real life not a feel good film. The US would screw every bit of concession out of Britain in return for access to their markets.

It is the collective voices of the EU challenging, negotiating and working together which gives each country influence. A collective of equals, each country with its own voice and its own views and that is completely different from the relationship between Scotland and the U.K.

There are MANY problems with the EU. Do I think it is wonderful, perfect and a brilliant institution? Absolutely not. It needs reform.   We know that and our MEPs know that. Scotland’s MEPs give us a voice. A friend of mine muttered darkly “as big a voice as Greece” when I mentioned that in a conversation today. But if you add Scottish MEPs to the MEPs from Greece, Finland, other Scandinavian countries, perhaps Spanish MEPs from Podemos in the future and other social democratic and left of centre MEPs, then suddenly the voice isn’t a small one it is a bigger one. The power of a collective of equals is greater than that of the individual, whether that is fighting a sewage works at Ardersier (going on just now)  or in The European Parliament.

Scotland is part of the UK. Even if that is not what some of us voted for, it is what we have. As part of the UK we must vote for the UK to remain in Europe and be part of the EU as we go forward. That is the best option if we want to encourage a fight against austerity, neoliberalism and attempts to close borders and isolate ourselves. There is no contradiction in being pro independence for Scotland and wanting to see the UK remain part of Europe.

As part of the EU we share a responsibility across Europe. Where we can collaborate, compromise and reach agreements then we must do so.We most work together to make the EU more representative, more democratic, more of what we want it to be. We must support countries who are struggling and we must celebrate diversity and expertise across the whole of the EU. That’s a good thing. Could we still do that outside the EU – maybe we could. Would we? I doubt it.

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