WHERE to start? Perhaps in 1989 when as a callow youth I was full of political zeal; the fervour of righteousness about a cause; a belief that if Labour couldn’t win in Britain and have power in Westminster, then it could in Europe. Socialist countries across the continent working together to improve the lives of working people, what wasn’t to like?
Of course teenage vigour, like political faith, slowly but surely evaporates with advancing years and experience of real-life compromises.
But back then I was 17 and part of the team campaigning to get David Martin re-elected as Labour’s Member of the European Parliament for the Lothians. While my pals were booking their first holidays sans parents to the Costa del Sol and discovering which Edinburgh bars would serve them, I was spending my time at meetings, hanging around in Nigel Griffiths’ Causewayside office, stuffing envelopes and delivering leaflets. My 40-odd self now looks back and screams “get a life” but at the time it felt important.
On the doorsteps the general lack of interest in Europe was obvious. People seemed amazed they even had an MEP, that there even was a vote – even though they’d had one since 1979.
But with an incredible amount of hard work – from all parties desperate to inform the electorate of how important Europe was – the turnout rose to 42 per cent, up from 35 per cent in 1984. And Martin was re-elected.
Halcyon days for European politics in our region. I never campaigned again (a career in journalism was on the horizon, party politics had to be abandoned) and like most people, I only had a vague idea of what was going on in Brussels. Turnout at Euro elections has fallen and with MEPs now representing Scotland as a whole rather than individual areas, the disconnect between us and the European Parliament grew.
But goodness how interested Edinburgh was last week. Some 73 per cent of the electorate in this city turned out to say whether or not they wanted to remain in Europe. And 74 per cent of voters did.
As the capital city of a small European country the fact that the result went the other way may well prove catastrophic. A city which depends so heavily on financial services, tourism research and development and tertiary education cannot look upon the havoc since wrought by the Leave decision without a certain amount of fear for the future.
Edinburgh has done well from being part of Europe – particularly those in the more deprived areas of the city. Over the decades money has flooded into places like Wester Hailes and Craigmillar, Muirhouse and Sighthill to try to improve people’s lives through training and better housing – although admittedly not always successfully.
But in future we’re on our own.
We humans have a habit of seeing things through our own four score years and ten. We find it almost impossible to project beyond that, or to believe that ideas might have a longer life than we do. The European project is still in its infancy and Britain has shaken it. What the injuries will be are hard to predict; its future potential unknown.
But we should know for sure about Britain shouldn’t we? After all, the Leave campaign promised the Earth and more if we quit Europe.
And yet it appears there is no plan. The Tories are now in the midst of a leadership campaign while Nigel Farage, below right, further harms Britain by failing to be magnanimous in victory in the European Parliament and resorting to childish gloating. Labour is tearing itself apart again in a re-run of the 1980s and the SNP – though not Nicola Sturgeon herself – seem desperate to add fuel to the fire with demands for a second independence referendum.
What has happened to the idea of national interest? The ideal which made the Liberal Democrats enter coalition with the Tories after the crash of 2008 despite knowing it would harm them electorally? The ideal which saw Labour stand on a platform with the Tories to keep the UK together although they knew they would be condemned by many for doing so? It seems to have vanished amid the hand-washing of David Cameron, the blatant individual political ambitions of his potential successors and the tribalistic student politics of Corbyn supporters. It is utterly depressing.
To come full circle David Martin, the UK’s longest serving MEP, has stepped up to the plate. He’s now part of Nicola Sturgeon’s panel of experts looking at how Scotland will be affected by Brexit.
And all the people who could never be bothered to vote in the European elections over the last 40 years have got their wish. They’ll no longer be bothered by enthusiastic teenage campaigners trying to win their vote with a belief that Europe could help them.
Swinney must keep inquiry independent
AS former secure unit worker Gordon Collins is jailed for six years for abusing young girls in his care from the mid 90s, one of the panel members of the Scottish Government’s inquiry into historic sexual abuse resigns, citing too much government interference.
Psychology professor Michael Lamb says the whole inquiry, which is supposed to uncover the extent of abuse of children in care and identify any system failures, is “doomed”.
At a time when adults who have been abused in the past are only just finding their voices, discovering they have the courage to talk about what happened to them and are being believed, this is a shocking claim.
How can the victims of abuse have faith in this inquiry if a leading panel member doesn’t?
People like the women abused by Collins need to know the government will not interfere in the panel’s investigation and its outcome. John Swinney, pictured, needs to be emphatic about that.
Kicked into the long grass?
THE Accies development in Raeburn Place has stalled due to a lack of funding. Given the political and economic chaos we’re entering thanks to Brexit, it could be a long wait before the money is stumped up by investors.
Shame they’ve already knocked down the perimeter wall. Securing the site until construction starts – possibly next year – could also prove costly.
A sacrifice remembered
EVERYTHING is tinged with Europe just now. Tomorrow’s commemorations of the Battle of the Somme would always have been emotional, but perhaps more so now. The sacrifice of the 15th and 16th (McCrae’s Battalion) Royal Scots should never be forgotten.