Sunday, 15 November 2015

Out, or In?

This column was published in the Llanelli Herald on November 13th 2015


How can a referendum on Britain staying in European Union be won? 

The opinion polls look evenly split, and if David Cameron gets his way with EU leaders we could be facing a vote whether to stay in or pull our as soon as next June – a month after the Assembly elections.

The campaign to pull Britain out of Europe is out in front. It has plenty of money behind it and a highly motivated band of followers who are obsessed about withdrawal.

The campaign to keep Britain in is a mess. It doesn’t have a clear message to say why we should stay in, and they’ve opted for the former Chief Executive of Marks & Spencer, Stuart Rose, as their leader.

I’m nervous about making the case for staying all about the interests of business and the economy.

I’m instinctively in favour of staying in Europe. It is not perfect, but we are better off overall within an alliance of countries to be able to tackle the big challenges that face us.

But having run the referendum campaign for devolution in 2011 I’ve got some experience about how these arguments play out, and I’m not confident that the Yes campaign is in a good position for the fight ahead. To win you need a positive case that connects with people’s everyday lives.

The pro-EU campaign is obsessed with scare tactics about how many jobs will be lost if we pull out. It’s got to do better than that.

There is no doubt that being part of a large trading partnership is good for jobs. But a Europe centred around the need of business alone is not one that is going to be mobilise the people in a referendum.

As we in Wales know too well, one of the centrepieces of the EU over the last 20 years has been the idea of solidarity. That the wealthiest parts of Europe help the poorest become stronger – a European version of ‘we’re all in it together’.

We’ve been beneficiaries of that. As a result of EU policy money has been directed to Llanelli and other parts of west Wales. So called Objective One money has helped shore up our economy and has brought much needed investment – though it could have been spent better in some circumstances.

But without Europe requiring investment in poorer areas there’s no doubt that London Government’s would have failed to step in. The same can be said on a whole host of other areas – for example, we wouldn’t be recycling so much of our waste without the encouragement of the EU.

David Cameron is making a big play about renegotiating Britain’s membership to get us a ‘better deal’. But what he doesn’t mention is that his idea of a better deal is less emphasis on projects that boost ‘solidarity’, and a greater focus on things that benefit the city traders that bankroll the Tories.

A bankers Europe will fail areas like Llanelli, it will be hard to sell in a referendum.

We need a positive case for Europe that emphasises how we help each other out; how the prosperity flowing from free trade is spread beyond the wealthiest parts of the EU. But that’s not a case David Cameron is interested in.

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