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Viewpoint / Editorial: Despite EU’s flaws, we should stay

THE EU referendum has been a monumentally ugly campaign since its outset.

From the supposedly well-educated Tories adopting strikingly similar language to the odious pub bore bigotry of Nigel Farage on the Vote Leave side to the bad cover version of “project fear” trotted out by the Cameron/Osborne axis in the Remain camp, there has been little for the progressively-minded to applaud.

That is regrettable. The EU is an institution with manifest flaws that need addressing.

It is a project much too beholden to unfettered free market capitalism. Its currency union is at risk of unravelling at any moment. It has questionable democratic credentials. It has been found wanting in its wholly inadequate response to the refugee crisis.

And there are some sensible people making a reasoned case for walking away on that basis. But they have been drowned out at every turn by vulgar anti-immigration rhetoric.

Many parts of this country face a housing shortage and cash-strapped public services. But those are caused by a failure of government, not an influx of migrants (the majority of whom, incidentally, are non-EU citizens anyway).

Shetland Islands Council rightly has a policy of striving to grow the isles’ population, while many other parts of Scotland would likewise benefit from a boost in numbers.

It is true that some European nations thrive outside the EU. But it is hard to see the UK turning into a progressive-minded, outward-looking nation like Norway.

The terms of our exit would be determined by a Tory government already so right-wing it would make Thatcher blanch – and possibly one spearheaded by an emboldened Boris Johnson marching to Farage’s toxic tune. Will that mob give the NHS more money? Pull the other one.

There are those on the left rightly fretting about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the EU and US. It should be resisted, but leaving the EU would surely result in the UK government signing us up to TTIP in a flash.

For our fishermen, the surface attraction of leaving is easy to see. The Common Fisheries Policy has not been their friend. But the consequences for the non-catching aspects of the seafood industry and for fishing’s export markets are far from clear-cut.

Besides, since when did Conservative governments have a track record of supporting our traditional industries? Who’s to say more favourable fishing quotas won’t be neglected or bartered away when the terms of a new trade deal with Europe are being negotiated?

Negativity, bile and pathetic scaremongering have emanated from both the Leave and Remain camps, and it has left our political culture thoroughly debased.

Cameron & co. should have recalled that exaggerated warnings of impending economic Armageddon damn near lost them the Scottish independence referendum two years ago.

But the Leave campaign has been particularly guilty of unveiling a tissue of lies – most notably its bogus bus hoardings proclaiming that we send £350 million a week to Brussels. Our net contribution to the EU is substantially less than half of that.

In the context of the UK’s £716 billion a year budget, it is a pretty paltry membership fee for a project that has kept the peace, opened up borders and helped foster invaluable social and cultural exchanges in the post-war years.

With that in mind, and despite the EU’s evident shortcomings, Shetland News has few qualms in advocating a Remain vote on Thursday.

Shetland News