EU Referendum: Fear Over Hope?


It’s widely accepted that the independence referendum marked a sea change in Scottish politics. Despite the referendum ultimately ending with a no vote, a spark had been ignited which it would be difficult to put out. The yes campaign was far from perfect. The profile given to supporters such as Brian Souter and Wings over Scotland by the campaign undermined their claim of representing social progression. However the grassroots campaign did seem to offer a sense of hope that had been missing from British politics for far too long.

The EU referendum has failed to inspire the same engagement. Only in the last few weeks has public attention really been drawn to the issue at all. The remain side has failed to gain momentum. Jeremy Corbyn has struggled to make the public believe in a union which he doesn’t truly believe in himself, whilst David Cameron has been overshadowed by the personality and public likeability of Boris Johnson. Farage has been strangely quiet, as the leave campaign has turned into a glorified fight for the Conservative leadership.

So why has the EU issue failed to engage the public in the same way that the indyref did? There is just as much, if not more, at stake in this vote. EU immigration has been a hot topic with voters for over a decade, and the possibility of the UK leaving the EU was a major card in the hand of the yes campaign during the indyref. It is obvious that the British public do care about Britain’s relationship with the EU. What is missing from the campaign is hope. The grassroots movement that inspired so many during the indyref represented a socially progressive left wing alternative to Westminster. With the possibility of Scotland building a new independent state, many saw the opportunity to build a new kind of society too. But what is there for the left to fight for in this campaign?

Although the major left of centre parties have aligned themselves with the campaign to remain in the EU, many do so grudgingly. In the last thirty years global institutions have encouraged the rise of market led neoliberal economics worldwide, and the EU is no exception. The decision to enforce austerity on the people of Greece after they had rejected these measures in a referendum was highly criticised by the left. In a world where the market rules all, the EU seems to be a key player.

The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership puts another spanner in the works of the left wing case for the EU. This bi-lateral trade agreement between the EU and the USA aims to reduce trade barriers for big business. This presents a threat to many of the trade standards and environmental regulations that have been brandished across remain campaign materials across the country. TTIP may also allow private corporations to sue governments for loss of profit. The push towards private sector dominance hardly inspires passion in those who fight for public services and the rights of workers.

It shouldn’t all be doom and gloom though. The EU already offers more to the UK than many of us realise. We take many of the benefits of membership for granted, from freedom of movement to workplace rights. However the debate has been far removed from the lives of the average British person. It is difficult to convince an unemployed person relying on food banks of the benefits of free trade. If the benefits of the EU are not trickling down to those at the bottom, how can those at the top criticise them for lacking faith in it?

This leaves left wing voters with a problem. Whilst Scottish independence felt like an opportunity for something new, independence from the EU would result in nothing but unfettered Tory rule. A vote to remain in the EU is far from a progressive choice. However a vote to leave is an endorsement of something much more sinister. Xenophobia has been creeping into British politics for some time, with parties such as UKIP and Britain First growing in popularity. The EU referendum has done nothing to abate the public’s fears over increasing immigration. The events of the last week have demonstrated the tragic consequences of legitimising far right rhetoric, as MP Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency in an allegedly politically motivated attack.

Ultimately, it is clear that a vote to Remain is the only logical choice for left wing voters. There is no left wing case for Brexit. Although some may choose to vote leave in protest of some of the more questionable actions of the EU, this will fall on deaf ears. Any leave vote is an endorsement of a continued lurch to the right in British politics. There is nothing to distinguish a left wing protest vote from a vote motivated by a fear of migrants. It is vital that those who disagree with the increasing politics of hate in the UK vote remain on Thursday. However a win for the remain campaign on Friday morning will be far from the end of the debate. The fight for a progressive European union is only just beginning, and it is vital that we speak out for the kind of EU that we can be proud to be a part of.

[Jessica Shenton – @JessAlice1992]

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