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Good news for Europe, and bad news for the fascists

LIKE many, I was delighted by the result in the local elections seeing so many hard-working folk elected to positions of real responsibility in the service of their communities. It was great to see. But there was also the result over the weekend from France, where Centrist Emmanuel Macron won a decisive victory over the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in the French Presidential election, 66 per cent to 34 per cent. Good news for Europe, bad news for the fascists, even if the fact they were in the second round at all should give us pause. But a win is a win is a win, and after the seemingly endless gut punch that was 2016, we can be forgiven for focusing on a bit of cheery news for a change.

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First published in The National, 10 May 2017

Macron has some lessons for a Europe that could use some good news. He ran his campaign on a firmly pro-EU platform, facing down intolerance and anti-EU sentiment instead of pandering to it. Where the UK Tories have calculated that the best way to defeat Ukip is to adopt their politics lock, stock and barrel in a massive shift to the right, his campaign rhetoric called out the politics of fear and division, focusing instead on a reformed and integrated Europe, the solution to France’s problems, rather than the cause.

So, what does this mean for us? Short term, it is going to be tricky. The lack of enthusiasm for him amongst the right-wing press and BBC was palpable, you could see their pain at not being able to write yet another harrumphing “Europe in Crisis” story.

He’ll also be tough on Brexit. During his time as France’s economy minister, Macron warned that a Leave vote would leave Britain with a diminished global status similar to Guernsey, and result in Britain either paying for access to the single market, or going completely alone. “In the interest of the EU, we cannot afford any ambiguity and cannot let too much time pass. One is in or out” he told Le Monde. The message was clear – you’re welcome to stay but if you decide to go, get a move on.

Brexit won’t be his top priority when he has his own domestic matters to attend to, such as gaining an absolute majority in parliament next month. But it’s clear that Macron will join his fellow European leaders in strengthening the EU where his competitor would have gleefully attempted to dismantle it and any united front in the UK negotiations. What is clear, the UK, and Scotland with it, will be very much left on the outside, looking in, with Theresa May looking away from the EU for her allies. Despite all the breathless Tory rhetoric, the US, Indian and Australian governments have all confirmed that they would benefit more from an EU trade deal than one with the UK, so that leaves the Prime Minister with … President Erdogan in Turkey? Or is there anyone on that new solar system we’ve just discovered?

Don’t worry, Prime Minister. I’m sure Turkey won’t bear any ill will over Vote Leave’s “Turkey is joining the EU” scare stories.

Before we get too excited about the defeat of Marine Le Pen and her odious Front National, we have to remember that they still came second, with a sizeable chunk of the votes. The extreme right are perfectly happy to manipulate democratic structures to gain power, and benefit from lazy, complacent non-voters. I hate to be the guy saying “if you don’t vote, the fascists win” but … you know, it is true. We cannot ignore that Le Pen’s populism got so many votes. The anger is real, as I have written about before. Too many people are struggling in their daily lives and see the political process and those of us involved in it as part of the problem, if of any relevance at all. And here is the other lesson for us in Scotland from the French campaign.

Macron won by facing down intolerance, and informing away ignorance or scepticism of European solidarity and how Europe works. Europe needs to be defended as an idea and as a structure, and I think in Scotland we’re in danger of drifting. Brexit is, for some, becoming the new normal, something to be tholed rather than reversed.

We’re clear, being a full EU member is in Scotland’s best interests. It is in the best interests of our vital fishing and farming sectors as much as the rest of the economy and society. I’ll write next week about fishing specifically.

We cannot afford, now, to lose sight of the wood for the trees. We have massive goodwill built up in Brussels and across the EU for Scotland. Seen from Brussels, we’re the good guys, and a lot of previously sceptical folk in Scotland are looking at independence afresh as the guarantor of an internationalist society compared to a backward, mean little Brexit Britain forever under the Tories.

We were doing what Macron did before he won. But there is an argument to be won at home as well as abroad. We’ll do what is in Scotland’s best interests first and last, and we’ll bring the people of Scotland with us rather than let the Tories do all the talking.