THE BLOG
19/02/2016 04:50 GMT | Updated 18/02/2017 05:12 GMT

Perfect? No - But Europe Has Transformed Us for the Better

Coming as I do from a part of these isles that saw no real need to call a referendum on our European Union membership, I was finding it somewhat difficult to get myself enthused about the thing. Until this week, that was.

In what felt like one of these ITV Saturday night galas, we were treated to the whole An Evening With...Project Fear as all their greatest hits were thrown back at us from the Remain campaign.

This all crystallised when I went on BBC 5 Live this week to debate the subject. I was up against 'outer', and Hollywood-casting tunnel visioned Euro rebel par excellence Tory, Bill Cash; and a Labour MP, Alison McGovern, who did her very best to support the Prime Minister's renegotiation without supporting the Prime Minister.

What became increasingly clear to me throughout, was that we are now caught in something of a false campaign: there is now a need to forget talking about the PM's weak tea deal, and get on with making the positive case for us staying in. Whenever Government ministers stand up in the chamber to talk about the referendum, as the PM will on Monday, I find myself wanting to scream at them to say what they really think, and give us the positive, nuanced case for staying in the EU.

We in Scotland know too well what it is like to be patronised, and told the sky will fall in if we make the wrong choice. I should probably say now too, that I don't think the UK would turn into a basket case if it left: I just think it would be a much lesser place without the opportunities for cooperation and mutual prosperity that the EU offers.

In criticising the interventions of big business into the debate, I'll actually praise one. (so, call me a hypocrite!) Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of Easy Jet recently lent her support to the In campaign, pointing out that Easy Jet wouldn't exist were it not for the EU deregulating the airline market, and encouraging competition.

As someone who was seduced by that company's recent 'Generation EasyJet' campaign, that was something which chimed with me. Increased intra-European mobility is probably second only to Equal Marriage (another European concept) in terms of revolutionary social changes in the last 20 years: Constituents of mine in Glasgow South now think nothing of going to Barcelona or Amsterdam for a weekend; especially when it doesn't cost much more than a weekend in Inverness.

It is also another perfect example of how we should stop being so squeamish about freedom of movement. A concept that allows each of us entry into a labour market of 600 million people has inexplicably been painted as a mechanism for bloody foreigners to come over here and steal our jobs: and I'm afraid the Prime Minister and his not-so-merry band of befuddled remainers are complicit, as a focus on the process of renegotiation takes precedence over the principle.

I've taken advantage of freedom of movement: my colleagues have taken advantage of it; people in my family have, and I know we will all know someone who has. It has not worked to everyone's advantage: but that it not a reason to bemoan freedom of movement, it's an incentive to provide those people either with the skills or the knowledge to do so.

The fact is that millions of UK citizens have already taken advantage of freedom of movement: ironically by some estimates we are the largest group of citizens living outside our own borders, but within the EU. Again, it is unlikely that this would entirely disintegrate after Brexit, but the principle remains.

When many Brits went to Spain for the first time, it was a fascist dictatorship. Cultural exchange and commerce have transferred that fascist dictatorship into a vital member of a community of nations: just as it has done for these former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe. This history argument can often be over-egged: of course it is not only the European Union that has kept peace in this previously bloody continent, but it has played a vital role in allowing states to stop pointing their guns at each other, and think about working together for mutual prosperity instead.

Talk of returning to some sort of pre-Heath nirvana where Britain could take macro-economic decisions without consulting our closest neighbours forgets that it was precisely this attitude which led to mistrust, misunderstanding and became a prelude to war previously. There is no such thing as peace without compromise. Most ironically of all, for the Hannans and Hollobones that dream of freedom in the 'Anglosphere', it is the EU which has kept the UK at the top table of global events during a time of relative decline.

This is a top table which the Leavers want to turn our back on and let us eat by ourselves. In this debate, which should really be more about who we are and how we see ourselves, we are letting our closest allies down at a vital time in European history.

As refugee flows across Europe cause tensions between neighbours, and stretch states like Germany and Sweden to breaking point; when president Putin seeks to benefit from these tensions to stoke populist sentiment in Western Europe, while intimidating the states in the East; Britain has decided not only to turn its back to Europe, but to do so while complaining in a loud voice that it can't get any ham, egg and chips. Let's stop that.

I feel myself suddenly enthused to go out and work to keep Scotland and the U.K. In Europe. We'll fight a hard Holyrood campaign, and then we'll go out and do it again for Europe. It may be difficult to motivate yourself for a fight that you never wanted, but the price of not knowing what we had till it's gone is too much. Aux armes!