The grand post-war European Project faces its sternest tests on two fronts at the moment. Closer union with our neighbours has brought us undreamt of prosperity.
Putting that at risk, and in the process hundreds of thousands of jobs, is indescribably irresponsible and is scaring the life out of industry.
The proposal to hold an in-out referendum is a hairbrained one which should never have seen the light of day. It is all about expediency within the Tory Party rather than doing the right thing for the country.
Withdrawal will cause real problems. Top of the list of pitfalls is being able to hire staff easily. We have huge demographic problems, particularly in Scotland. We face the prospect of our soft fruit rotting on the bushes, heightened problems recruiting staff to provide care and the threat to our engineering and science industries; all if we stall the free movement of labour. No wonder business leaders have been queuing up to voice their support for the campaign to stay in.
The second threat, Greek debt default and the possibility of a Greek euro exit, seems like a more geographically distant and abstract problem.
The euro could only work if those entering it played by the rules and were disciplined with borrowing etc. While a Greek exit would call the bluff of all of the populists who have been in denial over the need to get their fiscal house in order, the fallout for the rest of us will be immense. Billions will be wiped off pension values in the stock markets – not unimportant to those living off pensions. A bigger problem is the expected impact it would have on growth across the EU, with the prospect of another pan-Europe slump looming large, a slump that would hit jobs and our standards of living hard.
The IMF calling Greece’s bluff may finally nail the lie that austerity, in one form or another, is avoidable. We saw this played out at the general election. Both the Labour and Nationalist parties claimed to be anti-austerity though with Labour promising to cut 14/15th of what the Tories proposed that didn’t wash with the public. The SNP position was more aggressive but no less disingenuous as we saw when the independent experts got hold of it. Not so much “austerity light”, it was found to be “austerity in slow-mo”. Not quite what people thought they were voting for. The problem is that when someone lends you money they expect it to be paid back, and with interest. Sticking your head in the sand is not an economic strategy.
The benefits of the EU have been enormous. Not just in ensuring prosperity but in guaranteeing rights both to workers and to vulnerable people. The interdependency it brings with it has also shown to be the best guarantee of peace in Europe, which was very much its original intention.
Much of this may seem too far away for local people to do anything about. That might be the case with the IMF but not with the in-out referendum. I, for one, will be working hard to ensure that we don’t drop the ball and stay in. For the sake of peace and prosperity we owe that to the next generation.
Paul Edie is Liberal Democrat councillor for Corstorphine/Murrayfield.