Why it’s time to elevate the Brexit debate

Brexit has destablised the UK’s political institutions and culture.  It has  accentuated a shift  to polarised positions that admit little room for listening to opponents, writes Martin Roche.

So, it’s time for us all to review how we argue our causes and debate our beliefs. Europe is changing and the UK and Scotland  must decide how to react.

For those of us in the European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) Brexit has been like losing an arm. That’s why we campaign to rebuild ties and re-join as full EU members, whether in the UK or as an independent Scotland.

But winning hearts and minds will not be done by megaphone oratory or throwing social media brick-bats at our opponents. Our strategy is pragmatic, raising the quality of argument and making an active contribution to Scotland’s public life. That’s why we are holding our “Brexit Challenges” workshop on hospitality and culture, at Strathclyde University on 21st October, on the way forward for these vital sectors.*

Europe en marche

 Evaluating how we engage with a rapidly changing Europe is equally vital. Four elemental forces are shaping the European Union:

  •  Post-Brexit the EU no longer has to endlessly accommodate an often-petulant member. The unity it showed in the negotiations with the UK has persisted. The EU moving to that “ever-closer union” in energy, health, the green & digital transformations.
  • The EU as an institution is becoming more important to voters. Euromonitor reported in June a 9% rise (to 67%) in  those who intend voting in next year’s European Parliament elections. That gives greater legitimacy to EU institutions and  boosts their power and authority.
  • The Union is creating its own model (besides those of the US and China) and that includes bringing in new member states, expanding perhaps to 35.  The prospect is that the UK will be ploughing a lone furrow on the edge of a Europe united from Belgrade to Lisbon.
  • Russia’s war in Ukraine has stimulated neutral Sweden into applying for NATO membership. Finland joined NATO in April. NATO is becoming much more of a European enterprise and that process could accelerate as the US threatens to be more isolationist A new Trump presidency could unhinge the alliance and even if re-elected Biden could face a Congress set on disengagement from Europe.

Quo vadis, UK?

All this poses huge challenges for the UK: Where does it seek to enhance its security and ensure the protection of its international interests? Where and with whom do we make common cause? Do we compete with Europe or partner with it?

It is hard to see how any significant political party, north or south of the border, plans to address these essential matters.  But the answers won’t wait. So, let’s open up the debate and start discussing viable options. EMiS is ready to show a lead.

Martin Roche is a member of the executive committee of the European Movement in Scotland.

*Tickets for the European Movement in Scotland’s hospitality and culture workshop in 21st October in Glasgow can be booked at Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/brexit-and-the-challenges-facing-scotlands-hospitality-culture-sectors-tickets-711041232467?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

A version of this appeared in the Herald on October 11. Image of Loch Earn by David Gow