Tag Archives: European Union

Ben Lawrie calls for Scotland to remain in both UK and EU.

Earlier today I wrote a letter to all local MPs, MSPs and MEPs urging them to fight to keep Scotland’s place in both the UK and the EU.
The letter read as follows:

“Whilst I am disappointed with the recent referendum result I believe
that there is a way for Scotland to retain it’s EU membership without
holding another independence referendum and that there is also a strong
mandate for doing so.
Currently, Denmark is a member of the EU. Greenland and the Faroe
Islands are both parts of Denmark but are not in the EU. I believe that
the UK could negotiate a similar arrangement where Northern Ireland and
Scotland hold EU membership whilst being members of the UK whist
England and Wales leave.
As 55% of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the UK and 62% of
the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU, I believe that this
solution has a large mandate and would be the best thing for Scotland
and I hope that you will consider doing everything in your power to
push for this outcome.

Yours sincerely,
Ben Lawrie”

To me this is without a doubt the best option for Scotland and the most democratic one. I worry however that this solution will be overlooked by the media who will fan the flames of a second independence referendum as they know that this is a controversial issue in the eyes of the Scottish public and will attract the most readers.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs ‘Remain’.

Liberal Democrat MSP for North-East Scotland Mike Rumbles has come out in favour of a remain vote in response to my recent call for MSPs to campaign to keep Britain in the EU.
Last week I received a letter from Mike Rumbles saying that “membership of the European Union has long been a strongly held commitment of the Liberal Democrats and I am proud to say that we are leading a very strong and positive campaign for our continued membership.”
He went on to outline the economic advantages that a remain vote would have for Scotland pointing out that “hundreds of thousands of jobs in Scotland depend on our trade relationship with our friends in Europe with more than £11 billion of exports from Scotland ending up in other EU countries” as well as the fact that “Scotland is set to receive around £6bn in funding from the EU between 2014 and 2020. More than half of the foreign investment which comes to Scotland is from EU member states.”
He also highlighted how Scottish farmers benefit from EU membership as they receive “vital support through EU funds and their produce is sold right across the continent” adding that he was “disappointed that the Scottish Government has failed these farmers with the delayed Common Agricultural Policy payments.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain's continued membership of the EU.

Mike Rumbles MSP backs Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

Mike also agreed with me that our EU membership also keeps Scotland safe with the European Arrest Warrant “helping to bring criminals across the whole of the continent to justice.”
He finished his letter saying “I believe Scotland’s place in the EU helps ensure that every family, every business, and every person in Scotland is part of a stronger, safer and more prosperous nation.”

I wholeheartedly agree with the points that Mike makes and am proud that the Liberal Democrats have been leading the campaign to keep Britain in the EU.

How would Brexit impact UK Mental Health Services?

With the EU referendum coming up in just a few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate as a dedicated mental health activist to outline what impact I predict Brexit would have on mental health services in the UK.
There are three main factors that I think would affect our mental health services if we were to leave the EU, the first of these is the economy.
It is widely accepted that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy with 9 out of 10 economists saying that leaving the EU will damage our economy. The Chief of NHS England, Simon Stevens has claimed that “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold… it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, the economy goes into a tailspin”
Much of the current problems with our mental health services come down to a lack of funding and if funding of the NHS is hit by Brexit, this will surely lead to even less funding for mental health services.

The second factor that I believe will affect mental health services is the loss of EU science funding.
British scientists gain huge amounts of funding for research from the EU and freedom of travel within the EU makes it easier to assemble international teams of leading scientists to cooperate on projects. Our knowledge of mental health is far behind our knowledge of physical health and Brexit would be a blow to research of mental illnesses, their treatments and other aspects of mental health that we are yet to learn. This would slow down the progress we are making in learning how to effectively treat mental illness which will hinder the recovery of sufferers of mental illness for generations to come.

Finally, the EU as an institution is committed to improving the mental health of the continent. In 2005, the European Commission published a Green paper -Promoting the Mental Health of the Population. Towards a Mental Health Strategy for the EU. Following this, the European Pact for mental health and well-being was launched in 2008. The pact was then implemented through numerous conferences tackling priorities such as Combating Stigma and Social Exclusion and Prevention of Depression and Suicide.
I already worry for our mental health services. Currently they are over-stretched and under-funded. Waiting times are excruciatingly long and many people are being left to suffer as a result. I can only see these problems becoming intensified were we to leave the EU and this is part of the reason that as soon as I received my postal vote, I sent it straight back with a big cross next to Remain!

On British sovereignty

What those campaigning to leave the EU seem not to understand is that British sovereignty has not been lost. Signing a treaty is an agreement between states to do certain things. It can be repudiated, though this is rare. It is up to the individual states to do what the treaty says. The UK has not signed up to as much as other EU states, but has done what it has agreed to. Two apparently contrary examples show this. The first is on controlling our borders, the second about trade negotiations.

The UK did not sign the Schengen agreement, and opted out of it in the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty. The UK has therefore at all times been in full control of its borders. The fact that its governments have not spent enough on border control has nothing to do with the EU. It is the UK’s fault if its border staff cannot access lists of undesirable aliens and lets them in. It is the UK’s fault if it does not check who is leaving the country, and find out who is overstaying their visa. The Tories have chosen to set net migration targets, which cannot be measured, never mind met, on current staffing levels. If we knew who was leaving, we would know how long people coming to the UK stay.

On trade, all the member states have agreed that EU trade negotiations shall be conducted by a single person, the Trade Commissioner. This does not mean that the Trade Commissioner can do what she likes. She receives a negotiating brief with input from the Council of Ministers, the 28 heads of government. The brief also has input from the elected European Parliament. The European Parliament can refuse to ratify a draft treaty. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty further requires much greater input from national parliaments. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations with the USA have generated a lot of concern in many EU member states including the UK. In particular, people worry that the proposed arbitration arrangements may allow big US companies to put pressure on governments. The idea of companies avoiding having to settle disputes in the courts is not liked. France and Germany are so concerned that they have issued a joint statement that they want TTIP to be recognised as a ‘mixed’ agreement. This means it must be ratified by all 28 national parliaments and not just the European parliament. At the beginning of May, the relevant French minister was reported as saying he believed the talks had come to a halt. This shows that working together in Europe increases the public’s clout in negotiating with the world’s most powerful nation.

What Needs Reforming in the EU? Part 2.

When I started this blog, the national campaigns to remain or leave were both fairly over the top. That has become even worse today. The claims about the economy can only be confirmed if the UK votes to leave. Those about the UK having to support the Eurozone are simply false. Meantime in Austria, a Green candidate has been elected President. The British media could only hyperventilate about a possible win for the extreme right. None of this excitement brings any light.

The leave campaigners seem to have a vision of Britain making agreements on Britain’s terms. Imposing one side’s terms is not how real world deals are made. We will somehow have the same access to Europe as now but will keep our sovereignty. And yet those who want to leave Europe have been against the United Nations, giving aid to the Third World and taxation. They sound like wealthy individuals who accept no duty to others, and who want to pay no taxes.

What all countries agreed on after World War II was the need to prevent war. The first moves were global, and began with founding the United Nations (1945). British lawyers helped write the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the UN’s Refugee Convention (1951). The Council of Europe (1949) included the Soviet Union. But fear of Russian expansion after the Czech coup (1948) and Berlin airlift (1948-49) led to the creation of NATO (1949). Meantime, physical and economic reconstruction was helped by the US around the world. Europe including Britain benefited from Marshall aid (1948-52).

Everyone knew that both World Wars had started in Europe, with major power rivalry. What could be done to stop the same thing happening again? One possibility was building human links between the peoples of Europe. This inspired the twinning movement, from which grew the Council of European municipalities (1951). The founding fathers of the EU wanted to go further. Integrating national economies would make war physically unthinkable. Bringing the peoples of Europe together would make it humanly unthinkable too. They began with coal and steel (1951), which had been the ‘sinews of war’. They continued with the Common Market (1957). Mrs Thatcher supported further economic integration through the Single Market (1986), but not the added political dimension of the European Union (1992).

What has followed the creation of the EU has shown the strengths and weaknesses of the European project. The free movement of labour has given individuals including Britons experience of other countries. But the failure of national governments to provide infrastructure for their own population has created tensions. The free movement of capital has given opportunities to financial services, which were insufficiently regulated. Creating a single currency should involve greater co-ordination of taxation and a banking union. Germany in particular is not ready for this. The open borders policy has made tracking criminals harder, but allowed tourism to flourish. War between the member states is indeed unthinkable, but economic difficulties and the failure of governments to resolve existing problems have allowed a rise of national feeling. Voters are well aware of all this. The EU has a good record of cooperation where this is obviously sensible, as over climate change, enforcing competition rules on multinational businesses, and tracking down and arresting criminals. But in too many respects, cooperation has not been taken far enough.

What Needs Reforming in the EU? Part 1.

The answer to this question depends on the person who asks it. A resident of Scotland or the UK is likely to see things differently from a resident of Germany or France. This is also true of those who live in Hungary, Latvia or Greece. Each country has different neighbours, and attitudes differ on the need to work with neighbours.

In the UK, being on an island allows us to see ourselves as separate from the mainland, but linked to the whole world by the sea. Yet it cannot be true that the sea both separates and joins. In terms of trade, it joins far more than it separates. And where trade goes, fighters can go too. It has always been in our interest to dissuade the fighters from coming. The EU was founded in order to ensure that the nations of Europe had no reason to fight each other. By close economic integration, individual nations would lose the motive and the capacity to fight. However, if the peoples of Europe feel that cooperation has not addressed their problems, they will try to find their own separate solutions.

The big difference in perspective between continental Europe and the UK lies in the experience of warfare. The first half of the 20th century saw Europe twice devastated by war, whereas no battle has been fought in Britain since the 18th century. The two world wars came about because major powers over-reached and miscalculated, but also because national feelings were inflamed by the threat from other nations. Forgetting the past risks repeating it. It is the main reason voters on the continent wish to stay together.

The live issues in the UK revolve around immigration, jobs, and red tape. Some talk in surprisingly abstract terms about the ‘membership fee’ paid to the EU and the sovereignty of Parliament. What bothers me most about the debate is that the UK government has the power to deal with many of the issues raised. As I said in my previous blog, only those powers agreed by the UK government have been given to the EU.

Many other EU countries have issues concerning immigration and jobs. The fact that fewer have problems with red tape will be down to British gold-plating of EU laws. Jobs have been increased by EU action to enforce competition laws against powerful multi-national companies. The aim of international trade deals is to secure more free trade, which supports competition. National governments have their part to play in this. They should be providing infrastructure in education, affordable housing, transport and company supply chains. The best outcomes are likely when national governments and EU work together to generate more jobs for everyone. In working together, they need to become more effective than they currently are. That is what the aim of EU reform should be.

The EU Dictates Nothing

I said in my last blog that the EU dictates nothing, but that this point needed explaining. The EU exists only because its member states have agreed to create it. So far since 1951 there have been 26 treaties and protocols. Each required to be agreed, signed and ratified by the member states. Nothing happens without the consent of the member states.

This is why a country can refuse to sign up to a change that a majority wants. When the EU agreed in Schengen its open internal borders, Ireland and the UK did not sign that Agreement. When the Maastricht Treaty provided for a common currency, it included an opt out for the UK and Denmark. When Ireland secured opt outs from the Lisbon Treaty, a special protocol was agreed.

The EU can only act under the powers set out in the treaties, so it cannot apply to all what is not agreed by all. Its most powerful body is the Council of Ministers, who are the heads of government of every member state elected by that state’s voters. This is the nearest the EU comes to having a Government of its own. Its civil service is the Commission, whose head must be the candidate of the largest party in the European Parliament. Its laws are made by the directly elected European Parliament and the Council of Ministers working together.

This complex structure can only function by finding as much consensus as possible. Politicians in the rest of Europe are more used to this than UK politicians, who are used to the elective dictatorship made possible by the UK voting system. What is important in the political culture in Brussels is that once something is agreed, it is not then reneged on. This is what caused the Greeks so much difficulty in the Eurozone. What one government had agreed, another was not allowed to change.

This feature of the EU is a weakness when what was agreed proves to be a mistake. Why did David Cameron not seek to negotiate a more flexible and pragmatic EU? He would have had a lot of support from other member states if he had. I will write about what needs reforming in the EU in my next blog.

The Referendum

After the Holyrood elections, we can now decide on 23rd June 2016 whether to leave the European Union or stay in it. Whichever way the referendum goes, it will affect all the nations of the United Kingdom, and also the peoples of the EU.

Everywhere in Europe people are becoming increasingly conscious of their national heritage. This can be inspiring if seen as what makes us unique and what we contribute to others. It is off-putting if it leads us to pull up the drawbridge against our friends and neighbours.

Most people in Europe want us to stay, and have said so. This is for positive reasons, that they value our practicality and openness. One example is our experience of Free Trade in an open economy, much needed to complete the Single Market. Another is our sense of fair play, treating others as we would wish to be treated.

Europe is in many ways more democratic than the UK. This can be seen in the EU’s long-winded decision-making processes which aim at consensus in everything. They accept that we will not be part of any United States of Europe, if such a thing ever happens. They have agreed opt outs for all sorts of things, including now for the Euro. They are dictating nothing, contrary to tabloid myth. This point needs explaining, which I will do in my next blog.EU-referendum-ballot-paper-638210

Five Things Nigel Farage Doesn’t Want You to Know

Nigel

Whilst reading through the comments sections of UKIP’s Facebook posts it’s clear that many people are currently less than impressed with the European Union.
And with all the horror stories being spread it’s not hard to see why. According to Nigel Farage and his Eurosceptic party, not only are we paying an immense amount of money just for membership; we are also seeing a ‘massive oversupply’ of foreign labour forcing British wages down.

But is the EU really that bad? Here are five facts that Nigel really doesn’t want you to know:

1. European workers aren’t a threat to your job.

In the last few years, 9 out of 10 British Jobs have gone to British people.
Contrary to what far-right parties such as UKIP and the BNP would have you believe, immigrants aren’t that big of a threat to the employability of British people.
If however you do find your job threatened by people moving here from Romania in search of a better life, armed with with no money or qualifications and a limited grasp of the English language, then perhaps the EU’s free movement of people isn’t what’s holding you back…

This may leave you wondering, “what about that one job in ten that’s not going to a hard-working British person?”
Well calm down you inquisitive devil! That brings me to my next point…

 

2. European workers actually create jobs.

1 out of 7 of every new business formed in Britain is created by people who move here from within the EU.
Believe it or not this means that people migrating here from Europe are actually creating jobs, 9 out of 10 of which will go to British people.
So if you think it’s hard enough finding a job now, just try it without all of those companies created by European immigrants.

So now you know that British jobs are safe, but what about the benefits tourists that you’ve seen on shows like ‘Benefits Street’?
Admittedly there are those who wish to take advantage of the generosity of our welfare system, however…

 

3. We profit from immigration!

There’s no denying that things like benefits tourism are a problem. The NHS currently spends £1.5 billion a year on non-active EU migrants. However from 2001 to 2011, Britain gained £22 billion in tax from the EU migrants who do work.

Basically, immigration pays for itself and more.

Whilst I wont suggest for a second that abusing British benefits and our world-class health service is acceptable, leaving the EU and thus slashing immigration would see the country lose a lot of money. Our NHS would then subsequently struggle more than it currently does with allegedly lazy immigrants. In a time of so many cuts; could our hospitals, our military and our police force really cope with even more cuts to funding because we no longer have the same volume of immigrants working hard and paying their taxes?

Speaking of our police force… did you know that one of our best crime-fighters comes from the EU?

 

4. The EU helps us catch bad guys.

The European Arrest Warrant is “an essential weapon in the fight against organised crime”.
Those aren’t my words, those are in fact the words of Sir Hugh Orde who just so happens to be Head of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

It plays a pivotal part in making European countries work together so that they can extradite foreign criminals to be shipped home and punished in their own country.
Leaving the EU would mean giving up the European Arrest Warrant and therefore delaying the extradition of foreign criminals on British Soil.

Finally, the last fact that Mr Farage really doesn’t want you to know is…

 

5. Ed Milliband isn’t the only political leader who doesn’t look that good whilst eating a bacon sandwich!

nigel-farage-bacon_3059997k
You saw it here first folks!

 

UKIP’s campaign relies on you believing that the EU is a terrible thing for British people when in reality, it may be imperfect but it still benefits us massively.
This is why the Liberal Democrats take an unashamedly pro-EU stance whilst also recognizing the need for reform.

Don’t let Nigel fool you in the upcoming general election, learn the facts!