Friday, 17 July 2015

UK EU Referendum – A Radical Independence Campaign?

Like many people in the Green Party and on the broader British Left, events in the European Union these past few weeks has made me re-appraise my attitude to Britain’s continued membership of the institution. The way the Greek people have been treated by their EU creditors over the ‘bail out’ of the banking system has been shocking. To heap never ending austerity on a country whose people have had the temerity to elect a left wing government has left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Increasingly, the British Left are shifting towards a position of wanting to vote to exit the EU when the referendum arrives, probably in the autumn of next year. It is a surprise to me that I am even thinking about voting to leave, having been a firm supporter of continued membership for pretty much all of my life. Heavens knows the EU needs to be reformed to make it an entity for the peoples of Europe, rather than the big business stitch up that it largely is.

I have not yet decided which way I will vote, but one obvious problem with voting and campaigning to leave the EU is the prospect of sharing a platform, metaphorically or literally, with the likes of UKIP and Tory party little Englanders. The xenophobic (to put it mildly) rhetoric of the right wing outers is deeply repugnant to me and I dare say all on the left in this country. I don’t want to be associated with such people or their arguments for quitting the EU, but if I do decide to vote to leave, does that mean that I should just do the deed quietly?

A similar problem was faced by the Scottish Left in last year’s Scottish Independence referendum, who wanted to campaign for an independent Scotland, but didn’t want to be associated with Scottish National Party or a narrow nationalism. I’m not suggesting the SNP is anywhere near as bad as UKIP or the Tory right, but there was more than an element of distrust on the left with the SNP’s corporate welfare policies for an independent Scotland.

They found a solution by forming the Radical Independence Campaign. Mainly a coalition of Scottish Greens and socialists RIC managed to broaden the independence referendum campaign into a movement for not just national independence, but a force for a social democratic Scotland. In the process they pulled the SNP to the left, and it is arguable that Glasgow and Edinburgh in particular would not have supported the Yes campaign without this development.

Even though the vote was to stay in the UK in the end, the campaign to give the Scots a government of the left continued into this year’s general election where the SNP won 56 out of Scotland’s 59 constituencies. Furthermore, the SNP’s new leader Nicola Sturgeon attempted to spread this radicalism from Scotland to England and Wales with an anti-austerity pact with the English and Welsh Greens and Plaid Cymru.

Would this model translate into a radical campaign for the UK’s exit from the EU, from a position on the left?

I can foresee some problems. One of the main planks of the Scottish Yes campaign was to remain in the EU, so it rather flies in the face of the stance taken in Scotland. It is hard to imagine the Scots wanting to leave the EU and UK, because they would be vulnerable as a small country standing alone. I think it would effectively end the idea of Scottish independence from the UK, but if it led to a radical UK of the left, most Scots probably wouldn’t want to join a neo-liberal EU instead.

Not everyone on the UK Left wants to leave the EU either. Caroline Lucas the Green Party MP wants to stay in the EU and campaign to progressively reform it. This is probably the best option, but how likely is it that we can achieve the reforms we would like to see? Somewhere between miniscule and non existent I would suggest.

Of course the same might be said for building some kind of socialist utopia in the UK outside of the EU, but it would be surely easier to get control of the ‘commanding heights of the British economy’ than to try and force change on the undemocratic technocrats of the EU.

Britain is still a fairly big player in the world, so for the left to gain control of a truly sovereign nation such as the UK, we might become a beacon to the rest of the European left, and influence events there better, by being on the outside?

RIC UK anyone?          


  1. You seem to forget that we have the Paris Summit on climate change in December which comes at time when the Conservatives have rolled back their environmental policies. We need to ask what is going to work for the living world as a whole rather than specific nation states and the world as whole does not need any kind of resurgent nationalism that will make any kind of consistent planet wide environmentalism impossible. What is happening with the EU is an absolute disaster, it is stoking up a resurgence of nationalism that no eco-socialist should ever support because the historical timing of the EU vs Greece conflict could not be worse. The good name of the EU, it's positive hopes and values have been utterly destroyed now that it has been exposed as an ongoing neo-liberal trade deal that only favours the rich and the powerful so we now have no choice but to call for its abolition however in the same breath we must passionately advocate a democratic federal Europe demonstrating our solidarity to the poorer EU states by advocating a governmental framework that will implement the progressive internationalist policies that the EU should have been capable of. Anything else is a surrender to nationalism at a time when we desperately need to be moving in the opposite direction. LETS NOT GO THERE!! Even if we re-brand that shift to the right using a form of words that we can be happy with.

  2. I have always felt European and favoured a European political entity. I voted for Britain's membership of the EEC because I was seduced by the argument that we could reform it from within. I lived and worked in 3 continental EU states for 12 years before returning to the UK, disillusioned.

    The EU & ECB are both,, autocratic, undemocratic, corrupt, neo-liberal/monetarist entities incapable of fundamental change. Neo-liberalism and monetarism are hard-wired into the EU Treaties and require the unanimous agreement of all the member states before they can be amended. That is simply impossible. It is not going to happen.

    The EU accounts have not been signed off for years. It is corrupt. It makes any alleged Greek financial incompetence pale into insignificance.

    I shall be voting against continued membership of the EU. It will collapse in due course anyway, when it is finally accepted that Greece cannot pay the money demanded. There may well be social unrest across Europe as a consequence of these disastrous neo-liberal policies, which hasten its end.

    The left must promote a federal/confederal solution along the lines of the original Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). We need to retain minimal, diminishing, national sovereignties while we build consensual European institutions for health, transport, education etc. as well as regimes for workers' rights, health and safety, and environmental standards.

    The emphasis should be on bottom up agreement rather than top down enforcement. There may be European conventions on particular areas of interest which make proposals which are put to referendums of all voters and adopted if passed by a majority, rather than being filtered through national parliaments.

    We need to celebrate Europe's diversity and history, and concentrate on preserving its traditional communities in the face of forcible globalisation. With modern technology, mass production is not necessarily cheaper or better except from the point of view of multi-nationals who currently dominate the EU agenda. We can enforce modern, environmentally-friendly, people-friendly forms of production and distribution across Europe, where appropriate.

    We want an open, democratic Europe which is accessible to all and responsive to everyone, not just the rich and powerful. To that end we need political institutions in which ordinary people are involved, which operate across Europe and feed into the decision-making process, rather than eminently corruptible representatives, remote from their electors, operating a top-down, Mafia-like system for the benefit of global capital.

    The sooner we accept that the EU is as dead as neo-liberalism, the sooner we can start preparing for, and building a democratic, socialist, environmentally-friendly alternative