The Scottish Socialist Party concluded three months of deliberations on the EU Referendum last weekend when our National Council recommended we vote to ‘Remain’ and restated our commitment to a democratic, socialist Europe. We weighed up both referendum options before concluding the choice was not for or against the anti-democratic bosses club in Brussels, but rather how best to advance the interests of working people across Europe.
Remaining within the EU and working with others of like mind in 28 nations to reform it is, we concluded, the lesser of two evils. We see the EU as an anti-democratic bosses club manipulated by corporate Europe working to a brutal neo-liberal agenda.
Anti-democratic? Yes, certainly. The EU is not accountable to the people of Europe and never has been. The elected Parliament is powerless. The real power lies with unelected Commissioners appointed by national Governments. Europe’s corporations manipulate and control the politicians. The economic and political power rests in the boardrooms of Europe; with BP, Shell, Siemens, Volkswagen, Peugoet, Deutsche Bank, Fiat, BAe, the City of London and the European Central Bank as well as other multinational corporations like them.
Their neo-liberal actions crush working people everywhere. They insist on the privatisation of our public assets, the casualization of millions of jobs, low corporate taxes for them, ‘free trade’ protectionism, the ‘financialisation’ of entire economies, secret TTIP negotiations, the list of dishonour goes on and on.
Why not leave the EU then, it is asked, if it is a ‘bosses club’? A good question.
The answer unfortunately is because this ‘abandonment’ would not improve the situation. A ‘leave vote’ would be a victory for UKIP and the Tory right not working people. It is they after all who have pressed for this referendum. The choice is not between a corporate EU and an anti-capitalist or progressive UK. It is between ‘EU PLC’ and ‘UK PLC’. And working people should have no faith in either of them.
But a ‘Leave’ victory would unleash a ‘carnival of reaction’. It would be a victory for the bigots and isolationist ‘Little Englanders’. UKIP and the Tory right would move to scrap what little legal protection working people have left. They would uncouple the UK from European Court of Human Rights legislation they don’t like on equality and employment protection etc.
Internationalism and solidarity are important values and they are in such short supply at the moment we need to protect them avidly. There is a common challenge here facing 500 million workers across Europe. The ominous prospect of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] jeopardises the very concept of public services and public ownership. And the NHS is among its many targets. We need to join together across Europe to stop TTIP. And we need to change the EU too, to democratise it and socialise it.
No one is claiming that is an easy option, far from it. There are powerful vested interests determined to stop that change. The balance of forces across Europe today does not favour the left its true. But it is a struggle that has to be engaged nonetheless.
Those who say the EU cannot be changed should recognise it has been evolving and changing ever since it was founded in 1947. If it can be changed by the bosses and the right via treaties like Maastricht and Lisbon then it must be altered by the left too to insist on changes advantageous to the working class majority across 28 countries.
Those who favour a ‘Leave’ vote insist the EU is driving privatisation across Britain. But that agenda was started here in the 1980’s by Thatcher and extended by Blair and Brown. EU Directives are often used by Tory and Labour Governments as excuses to cover their own neo-liberal bias. The SNP do the same when it suits them as they did with the Scotrail franchise and Scottish Water’s non-domestic supply. But these EU ‘Directives’ also include ‘opt-outs’ Governments can exercise on social or environmental grounds. So in France EDF remains the state owned Energy Company. In Holland Abellio [owners of Scotrail] are also in state hands. Postal services throughout Europe remain publicly owned. In Germany dozens of energy companies supplying gas and electricity to cities across the Republic are also public. Jack McConnell used them too to halt the sell-off of CalMac Ferries in 2006. The threat of privatisation is as strong at Westminster as anywhere else. The opt outs used far less frequently in Britain. That tells us a great deal about the privatisation agenda across Europe.
‘How can we vote to leave the UK as we did in 2014 and then vote to remain in the EU?’ it is asked. The answer of course it that these are two entirely different issues. The EU is not a state. There are sovereign 28 nations within it. It is a trading block. Yes each state is subject to the same neo-liberal pressures but the 2016 question is should Britain remain part of a trading block or not. The overwhelming majority of laws affecting us in Britain are passed at Westminster not Brussels as UKIP would have us believe. Extending democracy means transforming the EU along the lines the SSP envisages not walking away.
The implications of the EU vote for Scottish Independence has also inevitably been raised. Alex Salmond for example, claims a second referendum on Independence will be ‘unstoppable’ if the UK votes to leave and Scots vote to stay.
I’m not so sure. The UK Parliament is hardly likely to grant us another referendum on independence after UKIP and the Tory right have just won such a far reaching victory is it? And Alex Salmond needs to remind people that Westminster holds the power to call ‘Indyref2’. And that is an even more remote prospect if the SNP ‘chicken out’ from seeking a mandate for it in May.
Few Yes supporters believe the ‘democratic deficit’ exposed over EU membership is the issue to win us ‘Indyref2’. The case for independence will be won or lost on economic grounds. As indeed it was lost in 2014.
As far as the EU referendum is concerned the SSP will recommend a vote to remain. But that ‘directive’ as it were stands alongside our unequivocal opposition to the anti-democratic neo-liberal EU in Brussels. The Europe we believe in is democratic, socialist, advocates peace in the world and not warmongering and sees 500million European citizens sharing the riches of the continent equally.