Monday, May 23, 2016

Making Your Mind Up

I’m in a mixed marriage – I’m in, he’s out. Of the EU that is. My partner is an anarchist, with a loathing of global governance and social control. He’s crystal clear about his decision.

I, however, am an active member of the Green Party, and it is hard to distinguish whether or not my opinions are derived from the peer pressure of being in a party where a Leave vote is considered eccentric and na├»ve. 

I’m told this is the most important decision of my life, that leading Greens with much more knowledge and experience than myself are campaigning to Remain, and just look at that toxic mishmash of right-wingers who want to Leave! How could I possibly agree with them? 

Yet there is so much that is wrong about the EU – the secrecy, the austerity agenda, TTIP. How can I possibly vote for it?

The challenge is that I, like most of the population who have a vote in the 2016 Referendum, know very little about the structures, policies and laws of the European Union. Its unwieldy complexity acts as a smokescreen making it very hard to judge who we are actually ruled by.

This fog is perhaps at the heart of the debate.  People always want certainty, simplicity, clarity. For the old, this means a sovereign national government, just like the one ‘we used to have’.For the young it means their own status quo – their only experience is being in the EU, so why would they want to take the risk of changing that?

And yet, change is what we so desperately need, in or out of the EU. We need a massive switch of resource and focus onto environmental sustainability across the world. We need to challenge the haywire neoliberalism which has created spiralling inequality and political conflict and is premised on a win-lose paradigm. We need to break down the orthodoxy that says we need infinite economic growth, which is of course impossible. In short, we need a future.

In, Out, Shake It All About

The Green argument is that we stay and fight for reform within the EU. As a pragmatist, I’m trying to make my decision based on whether we are more likely to achieve the required scale of change by staying in or by leaving.

If we remain, then Cameron stays as Prime Minister, the EU limps on, the economy breathes a short sigh of relief. Perhaps we can then put pressure on for the reforms we so desperately need, but it will take a huge amount of concerted effort across Europe and a firm clarity of vision. The contradictions of the EU run deep. The European Commission has climate change as a priority but it also has ‘competitiveness’, often a byword for lower wages and tax avoidance, and in any case a zero-sum game.

If we Leave, then we have to look at Nigel Farage’s smug face (and then the disappointment of those who somehow think this will put an end to immigration) and face the consequences of Scottish independence. Leaving is not a simple process – we will be tied into lengthy withdrawal negotiations and still have to decide whether or not to leave the European Economic Area (which is the bit that creates freedom of movement among other things).
The Tory party is in crisis either way, which is the good news.

 If I stay there will be trouble …if I leave there will be double.

In my pessimistic heart, I don’t think it makes too much difference overall at one level whether we are in or out of the EU. The same greedy and reactionary forces will be at work either way. It is more a question of how best we can fight against them.

Perhaps the single most convincing point for me is that any gains that we make in reforming the EU and getting it to work in the interest of social justice and the environment will be gains made across 28 countries. If we leave and campaign for reform just here in the UK (ultimately perhaps losing Scotland) then our impact will be much tinier.

If this is true then we need to commit to EU reform as a leading area of campaign activity. Now is our chance to articulate what we need from the EU and to use the threat of Brexit as leverage for fairer and more sustainable world.

So, in summary, It’s a Yes from me.

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