The Blog

A Wake-Up Call for Pro-Europeans

Being, generally speaking, a man of the libertarian right wing the reader might find it odd that I have a somewhat begrudging respect for the Guardian columnist Owen Jones. While I find very little in his politics to agree with, there is something to be said for a man who is, after all, only thirty years old with such a prolific set of journalistic achievements under his enviously small belt.

It is in this mode that I read with interest his recent piece for the Guardian website which calls for the British left to rally round a socialist case for Britain to leave the European Union. Mr Jones calls for a "Le(ft)xit" campaign in order to redress the right wing hue the movement to leave the EU has taken as of late. In doing so he builds on a tradition of leftist Euroscepticism that, while having fallen out of vogue in recent times, has existed for the entirety of Britain's relationship with the EU.

My first article for the Huffington Post very much nailed my pro-EU colours to the mast and, in the short time since then, the reader will be unsurprised to discover that I am still very much in favour of a "Yes" vote when the time comes. While my politics usually put me at odds with the content of Mr Jones' articles and my position on the EU does so specifically in this case, there is an important lesson to be taken from the timely publication of this article of his in particular.

We need to be clear, Mr Jones is a potent opinion former and as such he will not be the last prominent man of the left to come out in favour of a Brexit/Lexit. The message of reducing supranational government will doubtlessly resonate with some in the now prominent Scottish National Party; some of whom will agree on "Out" in principle, some with Jones' left wing arguments and some may even view it as a way to hasten a Scottish exit from the UK by way of causing internal chaos. There will also be some in the traditionalist wings of the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement who share the opinion that the European Union is a daunting, undemocratic, bureaucratic, neoliberal Goliath to be slain. Mr Jones has had the guts, and the foresight, to say what many on the left will come to realise and champion, that they will line up for "Out".

This must come as a call to arms to we pro-Europeans; we must wake up! For too long it has been assumed that the "No to EU" campaign will contain nothing but UKIP, some dissident Tories and a fresh batch of assorted fruitcakes. This is too big a misapprehension to continue operating under despite how cosy and self-affirming it might be for us. Complacency about the capabilities and scope of the opposition very nearly cost the Better Together campaign a win in the Scottish referendum; if we were to make the same mistake in the EU referendum, the "Yes to EU" campaign might not be so lucky.

However, it's not all bad news - some of it is excellent. For starters, the pro-EU side still hold the better arguments. Mr Jones does make some prescient points but they generally revolve around a proposed monumental shift in the way we do politics rather than what can be done to help people now. We, on the other hand, can point to an enduring peace on a previously war-ravaged continent, the clout of a 500million-consumer strong single-market, improved environmental standards, the protection of civil liberties and human rights, the creation of the only plausible currency challenger (despite its recent difficulties) to the US Dollar, an effective way of bringing international criminals to justice and the spread of liberty-minded values through the flexing of our collective soft-power muscles and inducing other non-EU nations to raise their standards. Regardless of your political position, from left-to-right, from the most ardent free-marketeer to the soppiest social democrat, there is enough variety at the pro-EU argument buffet for us all to gorge ourselves on and go home happy.

There is also a more severe point that requires a simple reiteration; the fight for Britain's place in the EU must start now! For every commentator and opinion former that will spring up with a Brexit argument, someone has to rebuke them. Each time we hear that the EU is undemocratic, someone has to point to its transparency and accountability; each time we hear how wasteful the EU is we must point to its stringency and efficiency; each time we are told that the EU is aspiring to grab power we must point to its restraint. Our task is far too important to sit back on an assumed silent majority - we in Scotland know this better than most. If we can win the game of "Whack-a-Sceptic" and make our own arguments proudly, loudly and with conviction and positivity then we can, and will, win this referendum. Whether Mr Jones anticipated it or not he has blown the starting whistle on the race to win the next direction for Britain - my fellow pro-EU folks, we need to get running.