Ian Murray: Brexit strategy swims against tide of history

The Scotch whisky industry supports 40,000 jobs. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

The Scotch whisky industry supports 40,000 jobs. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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Just six weeks after May’s Scottish Parliamentary elections, Scots will once more go to the polls to vote in a referendum. This time we need to decide 
whether we should stay in the European Union. I am determined to make a positive argument for the EU by highlighting its beneficial impact on the everyday lives of people across Scotland.

There are many reasons why we should remain in the EU – historical, practical, and economic. As I said in a recent speech in Brussels, to leave the EU would be to row against the tide of history. Since 1945, nations across Europe have forged closer links and come together to reach common solutions to common problems, keeping the peace and enhancing our collective security.

While the EU may not be perfect, there is no doubt that it has exerted a positive influence on our lives. Guaranteed rights to paid holidays; maternity and paternal leave; equal treatment for part-time and agency workers: all these are contingent upon our EU membership, as are consumer protections such as the right to refunds on goods, cheaper mobile tariffs and travel protections to name a few.

It was right that the previous Labour government decided to keep the UK out of the euro, but we know that the best way to address the major challenges we face – climate change, the threat of terrorism, the migration crisis and global economic problems – is by being part of the wider EU.

As the Governor of the Bank of England recently stated, leaving the EU could lead to financial instability, higher inflation and lost jobs. Conversely, being able to trade with our EU partners, unfettered by tariffs and trade barriers, is essential to many Scottish businesses – the EU accounts for almost half of Scotland’s export trade.

Scotch whisky, for example, supports 40,000 jobs, including 7000 in rural areas, and adds £3.3bn to the UK economy. I recently visited a distillery in Perthshire who told me their biggest market is Germany. Scottish businesses have worked hard to develop these markets. It makes no sense to turn our back on them. In fact, we should be encouraging more, especially small, businesses to export to the EU.

Edinburgh is, of course, home to a significant financial sector. Although times have been tough, the sector has prospered through its ability to welcome companies and highly skilled workers from across the EU, facilitate trade and investment, and maintain a network of support companies spanning the country. Anything that impairs this critical industry to our local economy should be resisted.

But perhaps the most compelling argument for remaining in the EU is that it gives the UK, and therefore Scotland, a strong voice at the top table. Our EU membership makes us a major player on the world stage, part of a single market of 500 million consumers, with the power to broker and regulate major trade deals that allow market access where otherwise it would be difficult. There are those that argue that our voice would be heard louder in isolation than it is in concord with our friends and neighbours. They are completely and utterly wrong.

Scotland and the UK are better off in the European Union. Our membership creates jobs, aids growth and investment, and safeguards workers’ and consumer rights. A vote to leave would only diminish us. I argued in Scotland’s independence referendum that we were all stronger as part of the larger economic, political and social union that is the UK. Those arguments are no different when it comes to the EU – whoever is making them.

- Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South and shadow Scottish secretary