By Tommy Sheridan
Political activism over a period of almost 40 years has taught me to cherish consistency and integrity but reject absolutism. Don’t ever hoist anyone so high in your mind that they are beyond criticism or reproach. Supporting individuals and political parties is normal and healthy but never on a blind loyalty, blank cheque or 100% basis. Retaining the ability to constructively criticise and even disagree with political leaders and parties is an essential prerequisite for healthy, democratic and mature engagement.
The whole debate around the European Union is a case in point. Individuals I respect and often support hold views contrary to mine while others who used to share my views appear to have significantly shifted.
Scotland is my country. I consider myself Scottish not British. I do not recognise Britain as anything other than a union of three nations. England is the dominant bully within the union that includes Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland is not a country in my opinion. It is a colony of Britain within the island of Ireland. One day, hopefully soon, it will be integrated into the unitary Irish state.
My country engaged with the Brexit referendum of 23rd June 2016 and voted overwhelmingly, by 62%, to remain in the EU. Although I voted to leave I respected the vote of my nation as more a rejection of the right wing, English chauvinism and anti-immigration case promoted by the main Brexit campaigns and given wall to wall coverage by the media than a ringing endorsement of the monetarist, big business economic agenda of the EU and it’s powerful Commissioners. In the Brexit debate of 2016 the strong, democratic and left arguments for leaving the EU were simply drowned out or ignored entirely.
Yet as the EU austerity budgets imposed on member states like Greece and Portugal illustrate amply and the refusal to accept even the mild anti-austerity budget of Italy recently further underlines, the EU is not a vehicle for the advancement of the working classes and progressive reductions of wealth inequalities. The EU is a determined and brutal advocate of capitalism in all its poverty inducing, privatisation supporting and obscene wealth and power inequality glory.
After a decade of severe austerity the anti-Establishment parties elected in Italy proposed mild economic expansionary measures. Italy’s coalition government, comprising the far-right Lega and the populist Five Star Movement (MS5), presented a draft budget that included many of the parties’ electoral pledges, such as a basic income for the unemployed and the shelving of a previous proposal to raise the retirement age. The budget would have increased Italy’s deficit to 2.4% of GDP, higher than that planned by the previous administration, but lower than the EU limit of 3%.
Nevertheless, in an unprecedented move, the European commission rejected the budget for breaking its fiscal rules, just as it had previously rejected the anti-austerity budgets proposed by the Greek and Portuguese governments. Rome’s growth forecast, according to the unelected and unaccountable Commissioners, was overoptimistic and the real deficit-to-GDP ratio would exceed 3%. The strict 3% growth pact limit is of course a political limitation not a technical one. Germany and France have exceeded it several times while implementing neo-liberal economic policies and avoided punishments. But any left wing proposals incur the wrath of the anti-socialist EU.
Italy was threatened with sanctions. After months of heated negotiations (EU speak for ‘browbeating’) the government in Rome caved in at the end of last year and agreed to draft a new, more austere budget. The Italian government was forced to renege on pledges made in the October 2018 election in order to avoid punitive legal action by the EU https://www.dw.com/en/european-commission-accepts-italys-revised-budget-proposal/a-46803754.
On what planet is it anything other than undemocratic for an unelected and unaccountable group of well-heeled individuals, called EU Commissioners, to legally circumvent the electoral commitments of political parties upon which they were democratically elected? It is undemocratic and it is wrong. The EU is a supra-state which has usurped key sovereign powers of member nations including the most critical of all, the ability to honour economic pledges made in the course of election campaigns.
I may be in the minority within Scotland’s independence movement but I refuse to accept that Scotland will be wholly independent as a nation until we are free of both Westminster and Brussels diktats. The SNP are entitled to use the fact Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against its democratically expressed will as sufficient grounds for IndyRef2 but they must not assume those voting for Scottish independence are also voting to remain in the EU. That is an important question, alongside NATO membership, the Monarchy and currency preferences, which can be agreed by means of referendums after independence.
The reality of the Brexit Referendum result of June 2016 when 52% of England and Wales voted to leave; the massive Westminster Parliament majority of 384 in December 2016 to invoke the Section 50 Order to facilitate leaving the EU (passed by 498 votes to 114 against); and the snap General Election of June 2017 which saw over 80% of the votes cast go to parties committed to Brexit is that the will of the people in England and Wales is to leave the EU. To ignore that will is fundamentally undemocratic.
How the Brexit2 supporters can call it a ‘People’s Vote’ is beyond me. Who do they think voted on June 23rd 2016 to leave the EU? Was that not a ‘People’s Vote’?
The looming European Elections on May 23rd are problematic for me. I’m for independence but I am opposed to the European Union. Normally in UK or Scottish Parliamentary elections I would vote for the major independence party on the basis of maximising the pro-Indy vote. However the SNP will fight the election on a pro-EU ticket. Whether it also stresses Scottish independence remains to be seen. After all it possesses a democratic mandate for IndyRef2 which it sought from the Scottish people and has yet to indicate when it will use it.
What is needed is a pro-Indy but anti-EU alternative. The problem is the cost of standing in the European election would run into at least £10,000 (the deposit alone is £5,000). Unless a progressive, pro-Scottish independence but anti-EU option emerges I may have to seriously consider spoiling my ballot paper.
What I would never do, however, is vote for a party led by a racist conman who has spent years cultivating an ‘ordinary bloke’ image opposed to Establishment politicians despite being every bit the Establishment politician he pretends to oppose.
Nigel Farage is a shyster, a nasty English nationalist who since 1999 has picked up a massive salary and expenses account from the European Parliament (£6,537 a month salary on top of free travel and accommodation) despite being vehemently opposed to Britain’s membership of it. So 20 years of a massive salary and incredibly generous expenses to cover his every need and he has the cheek to accuse others of being ‘Establishment Politicians’? Farage is the epitome of an ‘Establishment Politician’. He has milked the political system for everything he can get over 20 years and spread nothing but lies, distortions and scare stories about immigrants and immigration to play to a racist and ignorant audience.
My friend and political ally over a 20 year period has shocked me, and many others, by announcing he intends to vote for this racist toe-rag in next month’s election. I didn’t believe it at first but George Galloway actually Tweeted his intention https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/george-galloway-endorses-nigel-farage-1-6005487 and it has rocked me and disappointed me.
George and I vigorously disagree on the question of Scottish independence. He believes Britain is a country and Scotland should remain part of it. He is wrong but I was prepared to forgive him for retaining a belief in the British road to socialism that many of us in the Indy movement used to believe in many years ago. What is not forgivable is voting for a party led by such a right wing bigot and racist as Nigel Farage. I sincerely appeal to George to change his mind. We share many political opinions. We disagree on Scottish independence but supporting Farage crosses a political Rubicon.
Another friendship under strain from the EU question is the 40 year old one between Arthur Scargill and Jeremy Corbyn. Arthur feels Corbyn has betrayed his principles by endorsing a permanent customs union and rejecting a no-deal Brexit https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/burton/jeremy-corbyn-arthur-scargill-2127024. He believes Jeremy’s former muse and political ally, Tony Benn, would also feel betrayed. It would appear former National Union of Mineworkers leader Scargill finds Corbyn’s apparent change in position regarding the EU as a friendship breaker http://www.socialist-labour-party.org.uk/Arthur-Takis%20No%20Deal.pdf.
So it is clear the question of the EU does not just pose problems for the right within politics it also causes stresses within the left. I admire Arthur Scargill very much despite his unwillingness to back Scottish independence. I admire Jeremy Corbyn for many of the correct stances he has adopted over the last 30 years but believe he is wrong in relation to Scottish independence. I also supported many of the positions taken by George Galloway over the years particularly in relation to Palestine and opposition to Blair and Bush’s warmongering. But he is wrong on Scottish independence and to support anything led by or involving nasty Nigel Farage.
Friendships and loyalty are very important but they must never prohibit constructive criticism. We are human which means we are all fallible and prone to mistakes. Supporting a party led by Nigel Farage would be a huge mistake. Perhaps spoiling my Euro election ballot paper would also be a mistake but I remain to be convinced otherwise. On the EU I believe I have at least been consistent. Here is my Facebook post of June 22nd 2016, the eve of the Brexit vote three years ago:
“A good friend of mine asked me for my opinion of the EU Referendum. I suggest he and everyone else rejects the Project Fear Mark II tactics and vote based on your evaluation of the reasoned arguments. Both Leave & Remain campaigners have, in my opinion, pedalled scare stories in place of positive arguments. The positive, progressive and Left case for Leave has been deliberately squeezed out of the debate by the Establishment supporting Mainstream Media. My answer to my friend is below. It is my tuppence worth. Whatever the vote the fight against injustice, exploitation and obscene inequality will go on”.
“To be fair it is a more complex question brother but for me sovereignty is important. The real power and decisions lie with unelected Commissioners. It is a fundamentally undemocratic and profoundly anti-socialist institution. My heroes like Tony Benn, Bob Crow and Arthur Scargill were all implacably opposed to the EU. So am I. I am voting Leave. I’m for Europe and human solidarity but against the EU and the Big Bosses Club it represents. I won’t fall out with anyone who disagrees with me on this question but as a socialist I cannot support such an anti-socialist and pro-austerity institution. The EU is no friend of ordinary workers. It represents big business and the interests of the rich and the privileged elite. Take care brother.