It’s a fascinating issue of Scottish Left Review, if only for the complexity and diversity in our Views of Europe feature.
We asked four writers to answer six questions each. All of the writers come from a left, socially-progressive position. All of them want to see an effective social Scotland. And yet when asked if the EU is a barrier to that, one answers Yes, one answers No, and one answer Yes/No.
Under usual circumstances this would not be the question you’d be asking. We don’t frame a British General Election in the terms ‘can British Democracy ever deliver social benefits for working people?’ and we don’t frame elections to the Scottish Parliament in terms of ‘can this Parliament make any real difference?’. But suddenly the EU has a very specific feel of being optional.
In Scotland we’ve been forced to think about life outside the EU as a result of political interventions in the independence debate on the part of right-wing Eurocrats like Barosso and right-wing European politician like Rajoy threatening us with eviction.
Meanwhile at the UK level we are now staring in the face an in/out referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the EU. In the self-reflecting world of the UK media it is widely predicted that UKIP may ‘win’ the Euro election primarily on the basis that they have received saturation coverage from the media telling us it is likely to win the Euro elections. If UKIP was ever to take power in the UK it would be perhaps the first case not of a state controlled media but of a media controlled state as wild-eyed radical righ-wing editors pushed for ever-more right-wing politics.
So that’s easy then, the right hates Europe so the left must love it? Except the one attempt to set up a left party in the UK in recent years was the RMT-funded No2EU.
The confusion is straightforward in origin; the EU is a pretty effective tool for protecting various of the social gains of the post-war era and for pushing agendas such as equalities and human rights. It has acted to prevent the continent-wide Dutch Auction which has afflicted the US in which states and nations are set one against the other in an attempt to undermine protections for workers and the welfare state. It is fair to say that the EU has both protected and extended the gains of post-war social democracy.
But if all-for-one-and-one-for-all can be used to protect us from global corporations picking us off one by one, it can also be used by global corporations to pick us off all in one go. From the 1980s until a few years ago there was a powerful global movement which aimed to bypass democracy altogether in the pursuit of the destruction of the post-1945 social democratic consensus. Its primary agents were the IMF and the WTO which sought to create global trade rules that worked against citizens and in favour of corporations. And it sought to do it without debate – national leaders were left with the option of going along with any new set of proposals quietly or face the wrath of the global markets on their own.
That was until a group of Latin American nations gathered together under the banner of MERCOSUR and decided collectively to block yet another round of trade libreralisation. Twice it blocked attempts to introduce laws that basically put the interests of corporations well ahead of those of any democratically elected government. But both the WTO’s Doha and Copenhagen summits ended in deadlock. It became clear that the ‘bully the globe in one go’ model had reached the end of the line.
Which is where the EU comes in. Trade deals are now negotiated not multilaterally at a global scale but bilaterally between nations or groups of nations. Since it seems unlikely that there is a member state of the EU that would easily pass legislation in its own jurisdiction that granted supremacy to corporations over their own government, the EU was seen as suitably distant and undemocratic to be the vehicle instead. And thus we have the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a move to make it illegal for nation states to do almost anything that a secret court of business figures think interferes with the commercial interests of a corporation.
So the EU can easily become ally or enemy to progressives depending on the issue. It seems hard to come to a final conclusion – although if the TTIP is passed as it stands it certainly clarifies the risks.
Which all means that Scotland/UK membership of the EU becomes a complicated question for a progressive (though virtually none wants to be left outside the EU in a rightward-drifting UK).
However, this is for a not-to-distant future. The key in May is that the EU we have is populated by as many progressive voices as possible. Yes, this issue has given the Scottish Greens a platform to make a case for why we should consider giving our vote to them. Many of you may choose to stick with Labour or the SNP. But we must all think carefully about the outcome. It cannot be in anyone’s interests on the Scottish left for the end result to be Nigel Farage gaining a foothold in Scotland.