Credit where it’s due – it’s EU that has ended mobile roaming charges

ONE of the few good news stories to emerge from the UK’s decision to leave the EU is that people have started to engage with European politics in a more active way. I admit this is ironic but it means that for the first time people are aware of developments in the EU beyond that being covered by the major news outlets.

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First published in The National, 28 June 2017

With many readers here, I am preaching to the converted. Verifying stories by checking multiple outlets is normal practice for a lot of us who campaigned for independence in 2014 (and before).

Over the next couple of years this is going to be even more important. A week ago, David Davis capitulated to every single EU demand, then stood in front of the press and tried to claim victory. However, what happened was a total capitulation as Brexit fantasy collided with European reality.

Even last week, Boris Johnson was pretending that the UK’s offer on citizens’ rights “should be reciprocated”, knowing full well that a comprehensive offer was made by the EU side months ago. They’re still trying to con us.

As the negotiations go on, we all must read between the lines and challenge the Tory narrative. The case for independence in Europe must be made by us all and if we are not careful it will be lost in a sea of misinformation.

The challenge, though, is far more wide-reaching than challenging the right-wing press. Corporations, too, must be held to account. After 10 years of negotiations, argument and compromise, the EU has ended mobile roaming charges. The deal covers calls, texts and data, which marks a major achievement.

Sure, ending mobile charges is not going to solve world poverty or bring peace to the Middle East. It is easy to mock but the reality is this will improve people’s lives.

We have all heard a horror story or two about someone unexpectedly receiving a phone bill for hundreds of pounds. From now on this will be a historical curiosity.

Laws like this are what the EU does well on a day-to-day basis: small but concrete steps that protect individuals and set standards across a continent to promote economic development. Over the 44 years we have been in the EU, they have all added up to make a big difference to our lives.

The mobile phone companies fought vigorously against the achievement – trust me, I was there. They challenged it, lobbied, raised concerns, attempted to delay implementation – and if they had their way then roaming charges would still be a reality.

You can therefore imagine my consternation (and slightly raised eyebrow) when a friend received a text from their provider declaring that they were now offering free EU roaming so anyone can post a selfie from the beach!

I am not naming names, but all of the companies have run similar campaigns, from TV adverts with Hollywood stars to stories in the tech pages of our newspapers. What, of course, all these campaigns really say is that the companies concerned have generously decided not to break the law we made!

This is not a new perk they are offering, indeed, they could have decided to do this years ago. They didn’t. Remarkably, some are charging up until the last minute, and then claiming an act of generosity.

I have argued before that the EU is only ever a bad news story because when the EU does something well, someone else takes the credit. Politicians, governments and corporations from across the spectrum are guilty of this and must all take their share of responsibility for the result of the referendum last year.

After all, if you never give people the good news about something, don’t be surprised when they troop to the ballot box and condemn it. Indeed, it is a tribute to the independent thinking of many Scots that Remain did so well in Scotland.

I suspect that this latest, rather shallow attempt from the mobile companies will be seen for what it is but I would urge all of you to point it out to your friends.

You might want to ask the Tories if they plan to guarantee the same rights for all of us after Brexit, if it happens, as here’s a real, understandable example of something we’re going to lose unless an agreement is reached.

Scotland is a good news story for the EU and is being talked about across the continent. Let’s make sure that the good news stories of the EU are talked about across Scotland.