Harold Wilson once famously said a week in politics is a long time. He also said: “48hours is a long time in politics.” No sooner had the EU deal been struck by David Cameron and everyone had forgotten about it already. The deal was not trivial but it was not transformative either. Its intention was to bring around some growing Euro sceptics within the conservative party and across the country.
The deal might win over some swing voters and was enough to appease some of Cameron’s cabinet to publicly back the campaign to remain in the EU, but the reality is that our EU membership is likely to have nothing to do with the deal. It will have a lot more to do with who and what will convince the British public to remain or leave. And so, by Sunday, with the date set for 23 June 2016 we had the referendum campaign start in earnest with the emergence of the Leave Campaign led by senior Conservative Party figures.
Now it’s Monday and is anyone talking about the deal? That will be a no! The deal was a necessary precursor to the real issue which is a referendum to remain in or leave the EU and a campaign that is likely to be more divisive than the Scottish independence campaign. The outcome has ramifications for the future of the EU, the UK and Scotland.
What would a European Union that gave equal focus and priority to the voice and work of civil society look like?
So, does it matter to the third sector? Perhaps you have never thought about your work in a European context until now. You wouldn’t be alone as the debate is so often dominated by a financial perspective on trade, money, immigration, benefits and human rights. But what would a European Union that gave equal focus and priority to the voice and work of civil society look like?
The EU is much, much more than a peace project or a free trade area for civil society. There is a fundamental desire for, and are benefits from, close co-operation between European civil society. Our broad interest in social issues, containing market forces and promoting strong welfare policies makes us politically and ideologically compatible. Consequently, we often agree on broad policies and principles, and we are all caught within a similar institutional position.
What’s more, we work within similar international, European and national demands and constraints, so we are often faced with similar pressures, demands and strategies. This fundamentally similar context should lead to the development of co-operation between civil society across the EU.
There are significant opportunities at the EU level for the third sector in Scotland. Collaboration and cooperation on EU-wide strategies through EU networks, civil dialogue with EU intuitions and transnational funding opportunities. We have much to say about what makes a good society and our civil society colleagues across Europe are fighting for the same things. Do we collectively demand much more from this Union or do we leave it?