Writer Calum McMillan says austerity and events in Greece have put the SNP in a trick position over the EU in the face of changing public opinion
SOCIAL MEDIA is awash daily with calls for ‘indyref 2’, a sequel that most are desperate to be superior to the original.
There is room to make the argument that part of Scotland’s political awakening is one track minded: it’s all about independence.
Which by a large, is no bad idea. The Westminster-centric approach of UK governance, economic and social policies is undoubtedly causing increasingly large cracks across the United Kingdom.
A few months ago it was common to assume that the SNP, and its support, would be inarguably pro-Europe. No matter what.
Our centuries long state of ‘cooperation’ is in danger of falling apart beneath the weight of the capital’s neoliberal agenda. No wonder there’s a sizable section of the Scottish people so desperate to break free.
But a second independence referendum is still far from even being a dot on the political horizon. Unless we arrive at what could be called a ‘constitutional flash point’. The impending referendum on membership of the EU could be one such flash point.
A few months ago it was common to assume that the SNP, and its support, would be inarguably pro-Europe. No matter what. Within days of the General Election in May, Nicola Sturgeon was fielding questions from the likes of Andrew Marr on the SNP stance on an in/out referendum on European membership.
Scotland was for Europe. Scotland would be a part of Europe. No matter what. That was the message.
But then came Greece. It is undeniable that Europe has imposed its own priorities on Greece. Key members of the EU showed what could at best be described as disinterest, and at worst contempt, for the Greek people’s resounding decision to oppose austerity.
The message was loud and clear: we like democracy, so long as it comes up with the right answer.
For the EU, an anti-austerity approach was not the right answer. The neo-liberal model of capitalism leaves no room for an anti-austerity approach, which leads to the question: is there room for an anti-austerity Scotland within the EU? And if so, how problematic would the relationship between an SNP-led Scotland and Brussels be?
Initially it seems as the obvious answer is yes. Greece is in a truly unique situation. Scotland isn’t. Though the economics of an independent Scotland are still open to debate, currently Scotland is in a state of relative economic health. It isn’t likely to have to face the same kind of political sanctions and pressures that Greece has of late.
In the run up to indyref and the General Election the media argument was essentially: the left like Europe, the right don’t. The SNP is currently a centre left party, or extreme radical left wingers, or deranged nationalists. It all depends what paper you read.
Key members of the EU showed what could at best be described as disinterest, and at worst contempt, for the Greek people’s resounding decision to oppose austerity.
For the purposes of Scotland the divide has essentially been: the tories want to leave, we want to stay. But now it is far from clear the EU is the centre left, progressive force that it was painted as during the election campaigns and this could present serious problems for the SNP’s narrative of progressive politics.
Many prominent figures on the left wing of politics, an area the SNP currently inhabits (even if it is only just), have become increasingly vocal about their scepticism surrounding EU membership.
Owen Jones recently wrote in the Guardian: “As austerity-ravaged Greece was placed under what Yanis Varoufakis terms a ‘postmodern occupation’, its sovereignty overturned and compelled to implement more of the policies that have achieved nothing but economic ruin, Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast.””
And similarly Caroline Lucas, the only MP for the Green party, has been outspoken in the same publication about the desperate need for considerable EU reform: “Many longstanding supporters of the EU, myself included, are taking a long hard look at what’s happening in Greece and asking if this union of 28 countries is something we can still support.”
It is glaringly obvious that the approach of the anti-austerity, progressive SNP and the neo-liberal dominance of the European Union are at odds.
TTIP, the shadowy treaty that would grant private corporations the rights to take legal actions against governments who impede their ability to make profit, is just a singular example of the rift between the general European consensus in Brussels and Holyrood.
Is there room for an anti-austerity Scotland within the EU? And if so, how problematic would the relationship between an SNP-led Scotland and Brussels be?
Speaking in April to 38 Degrees, Stewart Hosie, the deputy leader of the SNP, said that the SNP could not support a trade agreement like TTIP without there being written, explicit, exclusions for public services such as the NHS.
He described the possibility of SNP MPs Westminster voting on an agreement lacking those exclusions as “impossible”.
Would this kind of opposition to the EU policies make continued membership an impossibility for Scotland? Certainly not. But they could make the arguments for the continued membership of a potentially independent Scotland in the EU a narrative which the electorate finds more difficult to swallow.
As the Scottish Parliament operates under a proportionally representative assisted members system (AMS), the SNP could find it difficult to hold onto supporters who were convinced by their anti-Westminster approach but are sceptical of the their pro Europe arguments.
The reality is that multi-party politics in the information age complicates the political dialogue exponentially. The SNP benefitted from the fight against the Westminster bogey man in the General Election and the indyref campaigns, but this EU referendum campaign likely won’t be so cut and dry.
The foundations of the EU: cooperation, partnership and diplomacy are strong arguments for the positive. The EU’s day to day to practices: TTIP, the treatment of Greece and ever increasing bureaucracy are incredibly convincing arguments for the negative.
The other reality, though, is that the SNP is built on fighting for better. Its mandate is based on the idea of an improved Scotland, not a continuation of a current Scotland.
It is easy to imagine the party could take this stance on the European Union as well. It is even easier to imagine this approach gaining serious momentum. The stronger the perception of Westminster greed is, the more the Labour party continues to bicker among itself instead of engaging in opposition, the more opportunity the SNP has to convince the people of Scotland that it will campaign for considerable change to the EU. For the better.
If the SNP can adapt from the exceptionally pro-European stance of indyref its position on the EU could still be one of the party’s strongest assets.
There are no other parties as well placed to fight for the narrative of change as the SNP. If it can adapt from the exceptionally pro-European stance of indyref its position on the EU could still be one of the party’s strongest assets.
But the simplistic us vs them perception of the indyref and General Election campaigns cannot be allowed to endure. The SNP needs to effectively challenge, and defeat, that narrative.
For the first time in decades the state of the EU is not only in the public interest, but of interest to the public, for a party who have put such store in being progressive, engaging the young, reinvigorating the jaded and embracing the technological revolution to not adopt a platform that challenges EU dominance would be short sighted at best, and at worst immoral.
Picture courtesy of Stuart Chalmers