I’m excited to start a weekly column in The National. Two things motivate my politics: anger at the gross unfairness that engrained poverty holds so many of us back; and Scotland in the world, the country we could be, making a real difference beyond our shores.
First published in The National, 7 June 2016
But no time for philosophising, there’s a real threat to Scotland in the world looming right now. It hopefully has not escaped anyone’s notice that there is another vote on the horizon, the EU referendum. It was not our choice, nor our timing. We don’t greatly see the need for a vote. Watch the UK media and it is an ugly, uninspiring, sterile, stat-swapping Project Fear-esque my-expert-knows-more-than-your-expert shouting match, carried out largely between the red and redder faced wings of the Tory party and their Ukip tormentors. I well understand that as our fourth national vote in 21 months, Scotland is feeling pretty unenthusiastic about the whole prospect. I get it, I didn’t ask for it either.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. We need to reclaim it because Scotland’s cause is at stake. This is real, and a real threat to Scotland’s hugely beneficial membership of the EU. It is also the best ever opportunity, for independence, to prove to ourselves and the wider world that we actually do have a different view from the UK and have different ambitions for Scotland. Remember indyref? A large part of the wider world didn’t get why we want independence. This referendum lets us show them beyond doubt what sort of country we are. And if you’re not enthusiastic about the EU, fair enough. But how on earth is the only certainty of Leave – handing everything to an arithmetic majority for the Tories at Westminster – going to improve anything?
A low turnout is exactly what the Leave campaign wants. It suits them for us to walk away. The last time there was a low turnout in a Scottish vote in 2014, Ukip squeaked the last seat. I’m doing 43 public meetings up and down the country between the Holyrood poll and EURef and I’m clear – in Scotland we have a different debate and the only thing that matters will be turnout. For Scotland, you need to be a voter and encourage others to be voters too.
And there is lots to be positive about. Ian Hudghton and I have published the Wee Bleu Book at www.scotlandineurope.eu to get the facts across to folk. Have a read! It is going down well and I see the phenomenon we saw during our referendum, people are self-educating and debunking for themselves 40 years of misrepresentations.
We have had peace in our part of Europe and it is easy to forget that the EU is – as John Hume, the great Irish peacemaker said – “the best war avoidance mechanism ever invented”. There’s not a village in Scotland doesn’t have a war memorial. The EU is “never again” in practice.
We’re also part of something bigger than ourselves, because the challenges we face are bigger than any one country. Be it climate change, the refugee crisis, the fight against tax evasion or anything else, we’ll do better working with our friends across the continent than we would alone. We’re Scottish, we want to play our part!
We also have legal rights at work. The EU is a social Europe that looks after Scottish workers. What the Leavers call red tape, I call essential protections for Scotland’s workers, guaranteed by law.
And the economy. The EU is more than a market, but it is an important market at that.The rough figure is that for every pound we put into the EU budgets we get 10 back (the actual numbers are £116 per person per year in and £1,225 back) so there’s a lot of real jobs in the real economy.
We also derive personal benefits. People think nothing of travelling to other parts of Europe without a thought for visas or paperwork. That is actually a huge achievement. You can travel, live, work, study or retire anywhere from the Algarve to the Arctic Circle, Stornoway to Cyprus. Leaving would throw these rights away and we don’t know what would replace them or how much they would cost. Some 2.2 million UK nationals (there aren’t exact figures for Scots) have taken advantage of these rights and live elsewhere in the EU.
At home, our society is more diverse, younger and more interesting because so many folk have paid us the supreme compliment of coming here to become New Scots. Some 2.6 million EU nationals live in the UK, so with net 400,000 it is as wrong as it is offensive for some politicians to talk about “swarms” or of being “swamped” by EU immigration.Say it with me: immigration has been great for Scotland and the UK, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Immigrants are here to work and contribute £55 per second to the exchequer. They’re not a cost, they’re enriching us in every way.
So there’s a lot at stake, and for Scotland we need to get out there. We can only do so much about the UK vote, but we can do lots about the Scottish vote and Scotland we can win this – and win it big.