My speech in Brussels on why we should vote to remain at the heart of the European Union:
I want to begin by thanking the Brussels Labour branch for having me here this evening. I know that many of you work for our MEPs, and in other EU institutions. You should be proud of the work you do, day in and day out, to spread Labour’s message in Europe.
I also want to thank our hosts, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies.. Your work in sharing progressive and socialist ideas across the EU is absolutely crucial and will be fundamentally important for putting the progressive socialist case for the UK to stay..
Be in no doubt, those ideas are needed today more than ever. As right wing and nationalist parties rise across the EU and see ever greater success, we need every effort behind marshalling our ideas for the future.
When we were organising this event we didn’t quite realise the timing would coincide with the PM formally announcing to the House of Commons today the date of the UK referendum on EU membership as 23 June.
As you in this room will know better than most, the result of that vote will be absolutely critical to both the UK’s and EUs future.
And if the left – with our values of solidarity - cannot begin to articulate what a progressive pan European vision looks like, we stand little chance of convincing people to vote to remain in the EU or vote for progressive parties or be in a position to put our ideas into practice.
We also can’t allow working people to be set against working people and for the EU to be diluted into an argument about migration.
In large part, that is what I am here to talk about.
The deal on the EU’s relationship with the UK, that was finally agreed three nights ago, kick-started a campaign that will see people across our country answer a simple question with seismic consequences: in or out?
Having now lived through two defining elections in Scotland in the past five years, and a referendum on Scotland’s future inside the UK, I am somewhat weary of warning how high the stakes are.
It’s perhaps a sign of the uncertain political times in which we live that we are being constantly asked to make political choices that will have consequences well into the future.
I suppose the genesis of this uncertainty could be traced back to the helplessness most people felt following the worldwide crash in 2008. The crisis, unprecedented in recent memory, plunged governments and institutions across the World into turmoil, from which some have yet to emerge.
The choice that we will make in June will make a big difference to our economy, the prosperity of our families and the role the UK plays on the world stage.
And for Scots, it is the second major decision about our role in the world in just a couple of years.
But the referendum is not just about how we manage future economic turbulence. It also allows us to make a positive argument for the EU and its beneficial impact on the everyday lives, the common rights and mutual responsibilities, of people across this continent. We should use this moment as an opportunity to highlight all that is best about the EU.
To demystify the role of MEPs and illustrate the positive impact of their work on our lives.
So tonight I want to make a simple argument.
That the European Union is one of the great success stories of our recent past and integral to how we face the major challenges of the future.
I will argue that our economy and society derive significant benefits from being part of the EU, and that is just one reason for continued membership.
But that another, far more important reason, is that membership allows us to stand side-by-side in the face of adversity to reach solutions that work for everyone.
It is no secret that the EU has not always operated in this way but it is a work in progress and can, will and should be improved.
If we turn our backs on it, not only do we give up our seat at the table, we actively harm our ability to meaningfully participate on the World stage. There are some that say that the UK’s voice would be louder in isolation than in concord with our neighbours. I say:: they are fundamentally wrong.
THE CASE FOR EUROPE
We should never stop of telling the story of what we know - that the European Union was born of necessity.
The Schumann declaration that laid the groundwork for what would become the EU sought to draw a line under centuries of conflict and division. It sought to find a solution, the scope and ambition of which was commensurate with the horrors that unfolded across Europe.
Its intent was clear and compelling:
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten them.”
In a continent that had been riven by centuries of conflict, the establishment of a cooperative union for coal and steel production was the first step on the road to keeping the peace.
- And as a short aside, I wish our PM would put as much effort into working with European partners to help the UK steel industry as he has put into his renegotiations. And he should halt Tory attempts to block vital reform of EU trade defence instruments.
However, the creation of a more unified Europe, free from war, was something that politicians, academics and thinkers had long envisaged.
The guiding principle of this vision was to cede a little national sovereignty to deliver long-term peace and prosperity.
As early as 1693, William Penn – the English Quaker social reformer who would later found the state of Pennsylvania – wrote “Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of a European Parliament”.
Later, in 1849, Victor Hugo took up the argument saying “a day will come when the bullets and the bombs will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of the people” across Europe.
So we see that the European Union we have today – even with all its imperfections – was long sought after.
And its objective – peace – long hoped for.
However, while the original intention of the European project was to guard against future wars, it is in the development of Europe as a space for single market trade and social union that our relationship with the other countries of the EU has really been cemented.
What began as a coal and steel union between a handful of countries is now a bloc of 28 nations increasingly reliant on the strength of all for trade and investment – punching above its collective weight in an ever more globalised world.
The EU accounts for 45% of all Scotland’s export trade. That makes the EU Scotland’s largest trading partner outside of the UK. And exports from Scotland to the EU accounts for more than the UK average.
Just last week, I visited Morrison and Mackay in Perthshire who export vast quantities of whisky products. They told me that their biggest market was now Germany. Being part of the EU provides them, and others like them, with unfettered access to a market of half a billion consumers.
And they're also taking advantage of new trade deals struck between the EU and other countries. Deals that would have been difficult, or impossible, without the EU.
Indeed, Scotland benefits from being party to over 50 EU bilateral free trade agreements from countries as diverse as Chile, South Korea and South Africa.
And Scotland remains the leader of any UK nation or region for inward investment from Europe, with more than 15% of Scottish GVA coming from European owned companies. That’s 4,600 business sites in Scotland owned by EU companies and more than 336,000 jobs directly associated with exports to the EU.
Many of these companies are in Scotland specifically because they want to access the European market. With the powers that devolution gives us to attract business to Scotland, we are in prime position to continue to take advantage of this in the future.
Whether we’re talking Scotch whisky, financial services or Scottish Salmon, the EU has facilitated new trade and investment that just would not have been possible had we not been part of the union.
And this economic benefit is matched by the social progress that Europe has helped us not just secure - but strengthen.
The counterbalance to free trade, as Jaques Delors outlined in his speech to the TUC Congress in 1988, was a “Social Europe” with rights at work and the free movement of labour as well as capital.
This foundational element of the European Union is something that has angered the Tories and has, in large part, been the driving force behind much of the Euroscepticism that has long plagued them.
But a social Europe is one in which the rights that have been hard won by unions over the past decades – from paid holidays to maternity pay – are solid and irrevocable.
And it guards against a damaging race to the bottom in conditions that we could otherwise face without the protection of being part of the EU.
A single market cannot be seen in isolation to the working people who make the goods and provide the services.
THE NEED FOR EUROPE IN THE FUTURE
So the strength of the union of the past is what provides us with the basis of the union for the future.
The role that the EU has to play today is different, but just as important, as when it was designed to stop the history of conflicts.
In 2016, the union provides the means for building a freer, more prosperous continent.
Being an active part of the EU provides us with the best chance to meet today’s challenges, whether they are challenges to the climate, our security, international relationships or the migrant crisis.
And this is where I believe that the key difference between those who want to see us remain in Europe and those who want to see us leave derives from.
In much the same way as Donald Trump is telling people across the United States that the way to “make America great again” is to build a wall; to deny rather than face the forces of globalisation, the opponents of the EU are pretending that the way we deal with global challenges is to isolate ourselves from the world. The political equivalent of hiding under the duvet and hoping problems disappear.
They believe that the atomised, disconnected World of the 19th Century can provide a template for how we face the challenges of the globalised interconnected World of the 21st and beyond..
But the world today has changed. And I’m not just talking about the pace of change in communications, the dawn of the internet, the freer movement of labour and capital.
The very structure of how we interact with each other, the relationships between nations and how we do our politics, has fundamentally shifted.
Moises (mwases) Naim (nyime), previously an Executive Director of the World Bank and now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, chronicled just some of these changes in “The End of Power”
He highlights that since the end of the Second World War, the number of sovereign nations has quadrupled from 51 On the day the United Nations was founded, to almost 200 today..
The number of countries with democratic political systems has increased significantly, and over time, the dominance of a small number of parties has been eroded to such an extent that minority parties now control 55% of the total seats in world Parliaments, matched by an increase in the power of globalised campaigning organisations and supra-national institutions.
All of this has meant that the traditional political system with strong Governments has been eroded. Even in countries with majority Governments, the truth is that no national leader is as powerful as their predecessors a generation ago. All are at the mercy of globalised forces.
This altered geo-political landscape means we must work together in order to prosper.
As Tony Blair said earlier this year, we cede sovereignty “in order to gain sovereign power over decisions that in the reality of 21st Century geo-politics we will only exercise in concert with others."
In other words, not only is it not preferable to be working alone, a large amount of the time it is not possible.
The EU “out” campaigners forget that you can't have a single market without giving away some sovereignty. . That's what has always been lost in this debate.
And as the House of Commons library has said, only 12% of legislation in the UK is related to the EU.
Not the scaremongering 90% as often trotted out by the euro sceptics.
And being in the EU has afforded us the flexibility to make the sensible decisions not to enter the Euro or implement the Schengen agreement.
Sovereignty is important, but in facing the challenges of modernity - from climate change to migration – working in isolation is only an option if you think the problems are always going to be someone else’s to solve.
Much is made of the EU citizens that use freedom of movement to come to the UK and contribute to our economy. Much less is made of the 2.2 million UK citizens who choose to live in other EU nations and contribute to their economy.
The principle that ceding a little sovereignty reaps disproportionate rewards is so obvious and apparent that even the SNP and Labour agree on it.
In the case of the SNP, whose raison d’etre is to leave their closest and most beneficial union – the UK – this is highly ironic. Why they should wish to leave the UK but stay in the EU for social, political, cultural and economic reasons, is a puzzle I cannot solve.
Indeed, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was on the BBC yesterday arguing that voting to leave a Union vital for trade and jobs in Scotland, would trigger a referendum on leaving an even closer Union vital for trade and jobs in Scotland.
In fact, we could play a quick quiz at this point. Who said, “the pooling and sharing across national boundaries is good for our economy and allows us to deal with cross border issues like climate, security and migration.”
Was it (a) Gordon Brown on the campaign trail to keep Scotland in the UK; or (b) the SNP First Minister on why we should stay in the EU? I’ll give you a clue – it wasn’t the former Prime Minister.
And when it comes to our nation’s future prosperity we should be realistic that we would be cutting ourselves off from the most successful trading relationships of the past half century.
And that provides another irony – free market conservatives railing against the EU. Maybe it's because Clement Atlee was right in 1945 when he said that trade deals were vital to regulating global trade.
That’s because in a world of one billion people,, the only way we are going to have our voice heard is by working together with the other countries in our neighbourhood to get a better deal for people in our part of the world.
It’s not giving up on our nation – it’s working for the best future for everyone who lives and works here. No matter where you are in the world, co-operation is key. ASEAN in Southeast Asia, the African Union, MERCOSUR in South America, NAFTA in the US, Canada and Mexico.
Standing and facing the future together gives us a far greater chance of success than going it alone. The migrant crisis doesn't disappear or the camps at Calais vanish or mans and inhumanity to man (as Robert burns would say) dilute because we think we can turn our back on the problem.
THE CAMPAIGN AHEAD
And it’s that message of working together for our shared prosperity that should be central to Labour’s campaign for the UK to remain a part of the European Union.
As Socialists, that is what we stand for, and this is an opportunity to put forward an argument for our values. We really should grasp it with both hands.
I’m looking forward to making this argument across Scotland over the coming months for that very reason.
As I said at the outset, the stakes in this referendum are high, and our future prosperity is on the line. So we must make this argument with passion and vigour.
The Scottish Referendum in 2014 saw a record turnout of 85% because the prospect of what people were fighting for – on both sides – was so great.
It energised people who had never before been touched by politics, and it showed what can happen when people are given a real and meaningful choice.
This referendum is another of those great choices and, while there is much from the Scottish Referendum that I do not want to repeat, the levels of engagement should be something we aspire to.
But just as in September 2014, we cannot afford to be complacent. This referendum is not secured. The result is not a foregone conclusion. The dangers of this turning into a referendum on immigration are real.
That is why I believe that the input of Labour voters and supporters in Scotland and across the UK could be crucial in determining the future of Europe.
Let’s be honest.
The Prime Minister’s “will he, won’t he” relationship with the EU has clouded his message and compromised his leadership.
His desire for a referendum has nothing to with doing the best for Britain.
It stems from the desire to fix a Tory Party riven with division on Europe for decades.
Many Conservative voters, and almost all UKIP voters, have already made up their minds up. The battleground now is for the votes of ordinary working people who want and need to understand the consequences of a vote in either direction.
That is why the campaign to stay cannot be based on cynical and selfish motives of the type exhibited by Boris Johnson in the last 36 hours.
Personal ambition placed above the national interest. Boris, IDS, Gove, Grayling, Farage, Galloway - 6 names and 6 colossal egos that should encourage everyone to go to the polling station and vote to stay IN.
But let’s be clear. The people we really need to convince are those who have felt most sharply the effects of globalisation.
Who have seen the industries in their towns die and have heard stories of jobs being moved to other parts of Europe to cut costs.
Who regularly worry about the undercutting of wages and the impact of immigration.
These concerns are real, legitimate, and must be addressed postively.
Labour voters up and down the country need to be convinced that their best future is inside Europe. An EU that is ripe for reform but can only be reformed from within, not without.
This is a referendum that, I believe, could be won or lost on their votes.
With the Conservatives divided on Europe, UKIP flying for the exit, and the SNP more concerned with having an argument about process than making the argument for the EU, it really does fall to the Labour Party to make the case for Europe.
That is why the Labour Party is IN for Britain.
So let’s grasp this opportunity with both hands.
And win this referendum.
For Labour, for social democrats everywhere and for Scotland.