Lord George Foulkes, Chair of the Labour Movement for Europe in Scotland, has written to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the SNP's support for the UK to remain In the EU.
I was delighted to learn last week that the SNP has registered as an official campaigner in the upcoming referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. You have previously stated your “firm belief that membership of Europe is in Scotland’s best interests,” and so a promise to stand up for that belief is to be admired.
A promise though, is not the same as action.
Indeed, I am somewhat concerned that the SNP’s commitment to EU membership seems half-hearted. We are scant months from the referendum, and there are few signs of real action as of yet. Where is the passion that galvanised millions of Scots during the independence campaign? Where is the organisation that netted so many seats during last summer’s general election?
On EU membership, I fear that the rhetoric of the SNP does not so far match their action. This has unfortunately proven to be the rule rather than the exception under Nationalist rule - whether starving local councils of resources, slashing further education, or supporting the austerity agenda, the SNP have consistently shown themselves to be artful practitioners of saying one thing and doing another.
This is why I take last week’s registration with a pinch of salt.
In fact, there are worrying signs that the SNP elite are divided on this issue. The former deputy leader, Jim Sillars, has recently declared that he will be campaigning for an “Out” vote, and claims that many within the SNP share his view, including Gordon Wilson, the former leader. Of course, no party is in lockstep on the issue, including my own, but the key difference is that the leadership of other parties are already taking real steps to make the case for EU membership.
We in the Labour Party, for example, have in addition to he party's Labour In for Britain campaign, recently launched the campaign of the Labour Movement for Europe, a Socialist Society whose Honorary President Lord Kinnock, seeking to articulate the progressive case for Britain’s continued membership of the EU. I recently chaired the inaugural meeting of our Scottish affiliate, where Gordon Brown made a powerful argument for EU membership hinging on positivity, prosperity, and patriotism.
This is in stark contrast to the SNP, which has made scant effort to set out its case for EU membership. Indeed, rather than make that case, you are instead complaining about the proposed date of the referendum, believing it to be “disrespectful” for coinciding with Holyrood elections. I happen to hold the Scottish public in rather higher esteem, and believe they are fully competent to vote on two issues and to understand the difference.
One can only conclude that the EU referendum is actually an uncomfortable issue for you as leader of the SNP, one you are unsure how to handle. In 2014, your party benefited greatly from monopolising one side of a wedge issue, the independence campaign. Now, with another divisive wedge issue imminent, you fear being forced to take sides, lest it puncture the enduring fantasy that the SNP are a party of all things to all people.
That is what lies at the crux of the SNP’s reluctance to make the case for EU membership - the worry that, for once, you will be forced to stake out a definite position on something other than independence. Worse still is the prospect that you may find yourself on the same side as the Labour Party, or, heaven forbid, the Tory leadership!
Say what you will about Labour, but at least people know where our loyalties lie. After nearly a decade of rule in Holyrood, I still don’t know what exactly the SNP stand for beyond independence.
Our membership of the European Union is responsible for 3 million jobs, 5% of our GDP and 6% of each British person’s income. It has strengthened worker protection, from excessive hours to minimum work breaks, and enshrined equal pay for men and women. Emissions are greatly lower, beaches are cleaner, and wildlife is better protected.
We in the Labour Party think these achievements are worth fighting for, and that is why we are doing everything we can to convince the public that EU membership is good for Britain and good for Scotland. I can only hope that the SNP will eventually drop the empty rhetoric and get serious about this campaign - we will welcome you warmly when you do.
Until such time, we await with bated breath,
Labour Movement for Europe - Scotland