The issue of economic control is not less important. Will we run our own economy through our democratic institutions or will it be run by market forces as required by EU law? In our view this is a key issue.
The Bill is now in its final stages in the House of Lords. It concentrates all powers over state aid and competition policy in the hands of the Westminster Parliament – taking away the powers delegated to the Scottish Parliament by the 1998 Scotland Act. This is equally so for Wales and the English regions.
The negotiations with the EU taking place in parallel, are focusing on the same question. If there is a settlement it is likely that the UK government will enforce roughly the same policies as the EU currently do, but will do so under UK jurisdiction, outside the legal orbit of the EU Court of Justice.
Is this a bad thing ? We believe Yes. Particularly for Scotland, Wales and the English regions.
EU regulations do not exclude state aid. But they do massively restrict it – to small and medium firms (no more than 250 employees), to specific areas and to specific purposes such as R&D and the environment. It must not distort ‘competition’ overall. We have seen the consequences in terms of repeated refusals by the Scottish government to help firms and their workers subject to closure or merger and removal.
The EU’s competition terms, hard wired into its Constitutional Treaty and embodied in its Directives covering power, telecommunications, posts, transport and other utilities, are just as bad.
Unrestricted competition in a free market is supposed to bring benefit to all. In our era, however, and clearly over the past three decades, it has meant the concentration of economic power in the hands of a few very big firms across the continent. The EU ‘level playing field’ restricts democratic intervention but gives full freedom to players of massively different size.
The results are there for all to see. Economic development across the EU has become much more uneven over the past two decades and no more so than across Britain and its nations and regions.
That is why the decisions taken over the next few weeks will be so important.
So it is surprising that this aspect of the debate has received so little attention. The existing leadership of the SNP have made it clear that they support the EU as it currently exists and hence their reluctance is predictable.
But this should not be the case for the wider trade union and labour movement – or anyone who cares about Scotland’s economic future or indeed about economic democracy itself. As we know, big business does not make decisions in the interests of working people – in fact and legally it makes them in the interests of shareholders.
ROSE, Radical Options for Scotland and Europe, currently has a petition before the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee which raises just these issues. It calls for a united campaign to preserve the principles of the 1998 Scotland Act, principles that came from the long struggle against de-industrialisation through the 1970s and 1980s. At that time that struggle was closely linked to an increasing understanding by working people of Scottish democracy, its protection and development.
This cause is, we believe, even more vital today and we hope that many more organisations will raise their voice to express concern.
Statement by Radical Options for Scotland and Europe (ROSE)
Pauline Bryan Labour Peer
Cllr Andy Doig
Neil Findlay MSP
John Foster (Joint Secretary ROSE)
Cllr Matt Kerr
Gordon Martin RMT
Vince Mills (Joint Secretary ROSE)
Par Rafferty Unite
Alex Rowley MSP
Elaine Smith MSP