As a socialist and a yesser, I’ve often been puzzled at the hostility of the Scottish far left, towards the EU and I can’t see that hostility dimming now we know that the remain campaign will be headed by three former prime ministers, John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, none of whom are fondly remembered by many yessers, especially not Blair and Brown. With a name like Britain Stronger Together, the remain campaign is beginning to feel uneasily familiar.
David Cameron will likely announce the date of the referendum, once the outcome of his current negotiations with other EU leaders becomes clear. He has outlined four key demands, two of which are already in place, one basically meaningless, leaving one demand, a system for scrapping EU laws, the so called Red Card system, either significant or not depending on the details, which we don’t know because they are secret. This neatly encapsulates two problems with the EU, one about the perception that it is irrelevant to our lives and the other that it is opaque, sometimes even secretive. The neurotic levels of secrecy surrounding the negotiations with the US over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a good example.
However, for a large chunk of the far left, the main problem with the EU is the idea that it is a sinister neo-liberal conspiracy, a cosy club in which capital can freely move at the expense of labour. Frequent denunciations abound and there are routine quotes from the likes of the RMT union, and the SWP that the EU is anti-worker, pro-corporate and against democracy and these voices have only grown louder in the era of austerity. It will be interesting to see what Scotland’s latest left wing project RISE, has to say about the upcoming referendum. I know from my time in the SSP, that there was a deep suspicion of the EU. There was even the suggestion at one stage that party candidates, if elected to the European Parliament, (aye right!) should not take their seats. This hostility might not be as prevalent with a bigger, younger membership unused to the old trots and their strange ways.
The far left seems on solid ground, when attacking the austerity policies, and the democratic deficit within the EU. The Scottish Independence movement is after all a democracy movement and there is a massive lack of democracy at the heart of the EU project, what the Electoral Reform Society calls a structural democratic deficit. This is largely due to the fact that is there is no mechanism for directly holding the executive to account, in this case is the EU Commissioners, who have a similar job to the UK cabinet. It is the commissioners who propose legislation and their staff who act as the civil service. There is no direct way we in the UK or people from any member state can initiate laws, worse still, it is likely according to the ERS, that directly electing a presidential administration would make things worse.
However, we are on shakier ground when we say that the EU is anti-worker. Equal pay was a direct result of the original Treaty of Rome, the minimum wage started as an EU directive and the working time directive, which has been outrageously blamed for all sorts of cuts to local services, gives us four weeks holidays a year, maternity leave and adequate rest between shifts.
As a socialist and a yesser, I don’t want to be part of a pro EU campaign with Blair Brown and Major, but what’s the alternative, Farage and the Britain First types? I don’t think so. I think that we as progressives ought to take up the Electoral Reform Society’s perfectly sensible programme for increased democracy within the EU, because I think that in spite of the attacks on sovereign democracy, the austerity imposed on Greece and Spain, the slavish devotion to US foreign policy, the massive democratic deficit, the language and cultural differences, the drift to EU federalism and all the other problems with the EU, not least that we don’t really have a European identity. The fact is that we are now closer than we have ever and that we have not fought with each other since 1945. As democrats and progressives we must celebrate that and look forward to an EU that is more democratic, accountable and representative. I think my comrades in the SWP, the Morning Star, No2EU and the SSP are wrong, I think the EU is flawed, but worth saving.