From Bevin to the EU referendum
Alastair Osborne is Chair of Carrick Cumnock and Doon Valley CLP. He says our Labour values tell us to support the campaign for the UK to remain in the EU.
I had to do a double take. Yes, the road sign did say ‘Quai Ernest-Bevin’.
I was in Strasbourg for the first time on my way to observe the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I was later to learn of the role Bevin played as a leading signatory to the Treaty of London in 1949 which set up the Council of Europe which now has a membership of 47 states and 820 million people. It is sometimes confused with the EU and its European Council – an organisation of 28 member states.
The Council of Europe set up the European Court of Human Rights and exists to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This was the first of several visits I made during which time I learned that the Assembly was divided into those who firmly believed in promoting the founding values and those who were extremely lukewarm to them.
I mention all this because, for Labour, the same values that led us to support the Council of Europe and the Court of Human Rights, with all their faults and cumbersome bureaucracy, also lie behind our support for the UK staying in the EU. Robert Schuman, the French Foreign Minister who spearheaded the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949, was also responsible for the Schuman Declaration which led to the setting up of the forerunner to the modern EU.
For Scottish Labour, the EU referendum is not about narrow issues of constitutions and institutions, but about Labour values of tolerance, solidarity, social justice, jobs, co-operation, peace and security. Of course there are real problems with structures and bureaucracy in all the European institutions, and there is a desperate need to address public apathy and disengagement with European politics (look at the pathetic voting turnout for European elections right across the EU). But the challenge for progressive voices is to articulate the real advantages of a Social Europe for ordinary working people.
The left in the UK who support withdrawal from the European Union need to take into account that the EU of the Social Chapter, signed by Robin Cook as soon as Labour came to power in 1997, is not the Common Market of the 1970s. The dimension of European political co-operation has allowed the left in the UK to join forces with the left in Europe to make real gains for working people.
We should challenge Euro sceptics and right-wing opponents of the EU to name one advantage for a working person in the UK which would accrue from a British exit. The truth is that within the EU we have the best opportunity for co-operation to address the big issues of refugees, peace and security, the environment and jobs.
52% of UK trade goes to other EU countries, totalling around £400 billion a year. This trade, together with other benefits accruing from UK membership of the EU, help support millions of jobs The threat to these jobs should not be overlooked when the issue of withdrawal is raised.
Also part of the original EU vision of Robert Schuman was that Europe should unite to promote international development particularly in Africa. Withdrawal from the EU would have a negative impact on the progress we have made on International Development.
I recently attended the Edinburgh launch of the Labour Movement for Europe Scotland, chaired by the ebullient and enthusiastic George Foulkes. We heard excellent positive speeches from Claire Baker MSP, Catherine Stihler MEP and a tour de force contribution from Gordon Brown. All highlighted our Labour values as the main reason why we should support staying in the EU. As I listened to them my eye kept being caught by the banner behind the platform – it read ‘Promoting European values in Labour and Labour values in Europe.’