Commentary by Derek Bateman
No sign of a grassroots Remain movement yet, I see. If anything defines the EU’s predicament, it’s the absence of people power to sustain it. How many of us In voters do you reckon would turn up on Calton Hill for the EU rally? You could get more Hibs fans for a pitch invasion.
What would our banners say – Embrace the Autocracy! Vote Remain for an Outside Possibility of Democratic Reform! We Love the EU…Except for TTIP!
It reminds me of our march along Princes Street, up the Mound and on to the Meadows in 1992 when the European Council met in Edinburgh. We hijacked it for a pro-assembly devolution protest complete with genteel Edinburgh chants…
What Do We Want?
A Measure of Devolved Administration!
When Do We Want It?
As Soon as it’s Convenient!
It was a demo with its pinkie raised. But I did get to hear Hamish Henderson sing Freedom Come A’ Ye from the open top bus. And I had a pint with Willie McIllvanney. From that time, as we digested the scorched earth effect of a shock Tory election win, the determination grew that we must create our own political culture and find a forum to express it. The doubters – and there were many among Labour and the Lib Dems – wanted the opposite. They argued the constitutional argument had failed and we should step off the gas. For the rest, including Scottish Labour Action, it proved the case for aggressive campaigning, civil disobedience and placing self-determination at the heart of politics. We already had the Claim of Right and the movement was broadening at the time with the argument, philosophically at least, winning. But it was the early nineties when the vision took hold that there was nothing to protect us from Tory governments and it certainly wasn’t 50 Labour MPs.
John Major fought his Maastricht rebels and resisted Scotland’s demands all of which helped crystalise in our minds an idea of a modern self-governing Scotland within a community of European democracies.
So from our effete amble through Edinburgh something did grow. Today it is a Holyrood Parliament, more powers than we dared dream of back then and a national mindset accustomed to thinking, if not actually embracing, national independence.
Maybe, just maybe, the shock that comes from a narrow win in the UK accompanied by a glance around the festering insurgency in other member states, will propel the EU institutions into a frenzy of introspection. It would be a mistake to imagine this can be dismissed as a British problem. There is a deep trench in opinion now as we saw this week in Austria – not so much Left v Right as Permissive v Intolerant.
This is discontent that only a supra national organisation can address but are there signs that the EU is doing so beyond the predictable mewling?
We all have our doubts and fears – no one is immune from asking questions about the flow of immigration and its implication for public services, for employment, and, yes, in some areas, for crime too. Is it a surprise that a population confronted daily by media messages about medieval self-styled Islamists grows afraid?
The first reaction is self-protection and withdrawal, double-locking the door behind us. But if there is an answer it surely lies in a communal approach and a systematic organised process for deciding numbers, treatment and distribution of those seeking a new life. It is a testament to European success that others would risk life and family to share in what we have created. Many of us are proud that asylum seekers, refugees and economic immigrants see our country as a promised land. We must admit too that we have also played our part in creating the mayhem from which many of them escape.
Britain’s referendum is a monster of a thing – if Cameron’s relentless indyref style fear-mongering were sincere you’d have to ask if he isn’t some kind of idiot for holding a vote on an issue he claims could be catastrophic for the country. As it is, it’s now so toxic among the Tories that even a win might not save Cameron from defenestration and the Tory Party from splitting.
On the other hand it might just be the kind of event that snaps people into reality. It might reach down into their inner self and rekindle what for many was the cathartic experience of facing total destruction in war with a sense of togetherness they had never previously known.
The moans about bureaucratic interference are the chaff that surrounds everyday life anywhere. The unloved politicians of Brussels are the same as unloved politicians in Britain. The problems they face are sometimes too big for anyone to solve. We as voters need something and someone to complain about.
But we also need someone who can manage a complex and inter-connected world on our behalf. That is the EU’s role and it depends on us believing that it acts in our best interests, even if incompetently at times. The shame is that for many of us, the custom of granting Brussels the benefit of the doubt on such matters has become harder.
The UK’s may not be the last referendum on membership and, assuming we survive this one, the EU will need a plan of action if it isn’t to be splintered from within. There is an element of Last Chance about the British vote.