I haven't used this blog to post any articles of a political nature before, but I decided to write something to articulate my views on the forthcoming referendum on the UK's continued membership of the European Union.
This will be my second referendum in two years, and while I found the vote on potential independence for Scotland in 2014 a complex and difficult choice, I have found it very easy to decide on whether we should stay in or leave the EU. It's too important an issue for people to ignore, get wrong or for me to leave inside my head.
1. Value for moneyWe keep hearing that membership of the EU is expensive and poor value for money. I received an information note with my P60 tax information return last year which showed the break-down of how my taxes were used for the last tax year. It showed very clearly that about 0.5% of my taxes went toward payment of the UK's membership of the European Union. I've seen different, lower percentages than this quoted elsewhere. That's a bargain in my opinion. I would go further and say that the EU is punching significantly above its weight in terms of value for money. Perhaps I should turn the question around and ask why the 99.5% of my tax spend that goes to the UK government only delivers so little value for money. OK, that was a somewhat facaetious question which grossly over-simplifies the types of things the UK and EU spend our money on, but there's a serious point in there somewhere.
2. Environment, environment, environmentThis is a wildlife blog after all, but you could say the same thing about lots of other things where the EU provides basic protection for the things I value the most, such as my human rights.
I have worked for over 30 years in nature conservation and I see very clearly how the European Union protects the wildlife I value so dearly and want to see preserved for future generations. The European Directives that protect our wildlife and our environment are just about the only checks that prevent widescale loss of wildlife habitats and deterioration of our environment. It would not be an exagerration to say that we would see species extinctions as a result of losing the protections that those Directives give.
Many pro-exit campaigners claim that we would use or introduce our own laws as a replacement for the Directives. That might be true; our Government is required to underpin all European Directives with domestic laws that translate the meaning of the Directive into out own legal framework. However, they would not be the same deterrent without the EU Directives because no government would be able to resist the temptation to compromise those laws to rule in favour of over-riding public (i.e. commercial) interest, when push comes to shove. This doesn't happen with EU Directives in place because if the European Court finds that the UK Government has failed to implement a Directive, either in the underpinning bywording of the law, or by enforcement of the law, then the UK Government can be infracted. This means that the UK Government is fined 100,000 Euros per day until the damage or law is rectified. How can a UK-only law replicate that? We are hardly going to fine ourselves instead? What kind of deterrent would that be?
If you need to be convinced of how powerful the EU protected sites are and how weak our domestic wildlife mechanisms are, you just need to look at the case of Donald Trump's golf course at Menie Links near Aberdeen. That site was chosen because it was an undeveloped sand dune system amenable for building links golf courses that only had domestic laws protecting it (a Site of Special Scientific Interest, no less). It was not classified as a Special Area of Conservation (an EU protected site) which every other undeveloped sand dune system in the UK is. This explains the cynical targetting of this site by Trump International. The rest is history, and the site's nature conservation interest has been completely destroyed, if not for ever, for hundreds of years after being allowed to teturn to the wild. It is another statistic in a sad catalogue of species and habitat destruction here in the UK, which would have declined a great deal faster without European laws as protection for the best sites.
I am fortunate enough to have travelled to other countries and have seen how weak laws and corrupt governments combine to erode wildlife protection, environmental protection and protection of our human rights. I have worked closely enough to our own government to witness how it is a thin line between what protects our rights here in the UK and the way that our own government would like to allow corporations to erode those rights. But the European Union makes its citizens stronger.
3. Putting Herod in charge of babysittingI take a look at the 'Brexit' camp and see a collection of most of the politicians I trust least to defend my interests and who have an unparalleled ability to make my skin crawl. I can't think of a group of people I would like to see cast adrift in a metaphorical leaking boat less than the out campaign groups. These politicians want us to leave the EU because they want to have more power than the EU currently gives them. It makes me shudder to think of what this group of politicians would do with extra power.
Make no mistake, the 'Leave' campaign group has an agenda which is not just about leaving the EU. It is a Neo-liberal agenda of deregulation which is not in yours or my interest. Neo liberalism favours the rich and powerful who are best equipped to prosper within the chaos of a deregulated society at the expense of ordinary people who lack the financial means to hire lawyers, buy social services or private health care etc. when the state cannot support or protect them.
4. The break-up of the UKI make no secret of the fact that I voted in favour of Scotland staying in the UK in the Independence Referendum in 2014. If Scotland votes for the UK to stay in the EU and the rest of the UK votes to leave, I would have no hesitation in voting for independence for Scotland in a new vote. I know many other people in Scotland who feel the same way because of the importance of being a member of the EU to them. I believe that if there is a majority vote in the UK to leave the EU, there will be overwhelming pressure for a new independence vote for Scotland, and this time, there would be a yes result in favour of indepndence for Scotland.
5. Can we just stop making enemies out of our neighbours, please?It's hardly surprising that our neighbours on the continent make life difficult for us. All this negative talk about the EU, about how we are better off without it etc etc does not make for good neighbourly relationships with people we have a great deal more in common with than we choose to admit. Imagine if your own next door neighbour moaned continuously about how terrible the village/town/city was where they lived? You would just say "well fuck off then, and don't expect any help from me". OK, maybe not you, but that's what I would say, and that's what many of my European friends say about our very public national moans about Europe and the EU. We come across as a nation of Carl Pilkingtons turning our noses up at everything about Johnny Foreigner Europe as if we are in some way superior and they are inferior.
We would do well to stop moaning, respect our European neighbours as equals and try constructive criticism instead.