Throughout the Scottish Independence referendum, along with most other Yes campaigners, I was campaigning for a modern form of political union to define our relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom. I hoped for a system that allowed Scotland’s democratic will to define our key political decisions whilst still working in partnership with our neighbouring countries on the economy, ensuring human rights are kept to a high standard (in the work place and in general social activity) and to work alongside them on energy and transport projects of common interest and also to move our efforts towards environmental sustainability forward in the most efficient manner. The system that is already set-up to enable that is the European Union – and whether Scotland is within or out of the UK system, I’d like all British nations to be members of the EU.
For me, there are 2 fundamental differences that make the EU a good system of political union and the UK a bad one: the method of tax collection and Defence.
The EU raises its annual budget by allowing each member state to function independently and collect all of their own taxes – and then to pay a membership fee which is based on their ability to pay, or their Gross National Income (GNI). Each member state contributes ~0.7% of their GNI and this then builds ~67% of the overall annual EU budget. A further 12% of the budget is raised ~0.3% of all VAT collected being apportioned to the EU. And the other ~20% is raised through custom duties, import taxes and – importantly – contributions from non-EU countries.
So the key aspect with the EU is that each member state is responsible for collecting their own taxes and managing the core aspects of their respective economies. This is a much more democratic and accountable system than the convoluted system that we have in the UK – which, ironically, was the main thing that I took from the Smith Commission.
As for Defence – much of the media / campaign debate has been about Defence but this is more of a result of UK politics than EU politics… Hyperbole on Defence is standard for large states which is then used to justify obscene expenditure on Weapons of Mass Destruction. Thankfully the EU doesn’t have a centralised Defence policy – it allows each member state to determine its own Defence policy independently – so most of the debate on this topic has been wilfully misleading.
Should either of these factors ever change, the proposition of in or out of the EU would be far more complex for me but given what it is today – I think that remaining in the EU is by far the best option for the UK and each of its constituent nations.
One aspect of the EU that is very frustrating in the UK, is that our media largely ignores the role of the EU in our everyday lives – and as part of that our elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are absent from general media coverage with the one unfortunate exception. Farage aside, this has even been true during the EU referendum debate which is a shame as the SNP MEPs deserve more air time. Alyn Smith and Ian Hudghton have written a book that gives a great overview of the EU and how it benefits Scotland in their WEE BLEU BOOK. Here are some key points taken from that and Alyn Smith’s article in The National on why we are better to be in the EU:
- Freedom to live, travel, work, study or retire in all Member States. EU legislation has been agreed on freedom of movement that guarantees access to social security and to healthcare systems.
- European Health Insurance Card. As EU citizens we have a right to emergency treatment in any other EU country on the same conditions as locals, avoiding massive hospital fees, insurance costs and paperwork.
- EU legislation is abolishing mobile phone roaming fees from June 2017 so you can use your mobile anywhere across the EU without fear of huge fees.
- Tackling tax avoidance. The Commission has been tasked with cracking down on tax evasion. The Tax Avoidance Directive will be coming soon; only acting together will we win.
- Financial services. EU single-market legislation creates the right to “passport” your services once you are authorised to market services in one Member State, you are authorised to market them in all. This creates huge opportunities for Scottish firms, creating real jobs in Scotland.
- Cross-border transport and energy infrastructure through the Connecting Europe Facility. The EU is investing in infrastructure to join up our energy and transport sectors: €4.7billion for energy, €24bn for transport. Some examples of where European Investment Bank (EIB) investments are being made in Scotland just now are:
- Over £80m EIB investment into the new City of Glasgow College which is already under construction
- Commitment of up to £100m of EIB cash to help finance construction of NHS Lothian’s new £155m Royal Hospital for Sick Children and the adjacent Department of Clinical Neurosciences
- Commitment of a further £180m of EIB funding into Transport Scotland’s M8/M73/M74 Improvements project
- The EIB has agreed to provide £500 million to support a major reinforcement of the electricity transmission network in the north of Scotland to improve connections between wind, wave and tidal renewable energy schemes and the national power network. The new power link will help secure the supply of electricity in the Highlands and beyond for generations to come and once operational the new transmission link will supply equivalent electricity to meet the needs of around 2 million Scottish residents.
- EU funding is already ploughing millions of Euros into Scottish energy projects: for example, €20 million for the world’s largest tidal stream energy array in the Sound of Islay, and €40 million to help build an electricity interconnector between Scotland and Norway. A North Sea subsea electricity supergrid, to harness the renewable power of the North Sea, is finally moving forward because the European regulatory body of electricity transmission has created a framework for that co–operation. Upcoming work in Brussels on creating a genuine Energy Union, promoting indigenous European energy sources and boosting interconnections between member states, can only help Scotland’s ambition to be the EU’s green powerhouse.
- The EU also funds environmental projects across Europe through the LIFE programme. Since 1992, LIFE has co–financed over 4000 projects with over €3.4 billion from the EU budget. This includes projects in the UK: up to €30 million being provided in January 2016 to help the UK implement River Basin Management Plans which should help to improve water quality and prevent flooding.
- The EU single market rules are underpinned by a strong core of social rights, both for workers and for people in general: to promote their general welfare, to facilitate freedom of movement by ensuring that accrued rights are portable and can travel with you to another country, and to prevent unscrupulous employers from exploiting national differences to undercut working conditions and the standard of living.
- Freedom from discrimination. EU legislation gave us the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of age, sexual orientation or religious belief for the first time. Those rights did not previously exist in UK law (UK law covered racial and gender discrimination).
- Funding and enabling collaborative research. The Marie Curie programme gives grants to researchers to work across other countries, which helps innovation and is crucial for Scottish science. More than €6bn of funding helps to finance more than 25,000 PhDs.
- Single market without barriers to trade. For example, a single EU law on food labelling means that our food exporters don’t have to design 28 different packet labels to meet 28 different sets of rules. You can trade in other countries just like you can at home. This creates 500 million potential customers for our products.
- The Victims’ Rights Directive. As more EU citizens travel across the EU, so, sadly, are more people a victim of crime away from home. They now have rights in that process, to an interpreter, explanation of the process and clear information about what is happening. The Directive has Scottish fingerprints all over it. Scotland is acknowledged to lead the EU in treatment of victims.
There are many more reasons to vote Remain on Thursday, and also a few valid complaints that can be made about the current system – but for a system which helps coordinate 28 member states, it does pretty well in my book.