A contradiction in Terms?
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.