The upcoming referendum could see the UK quit the EU in a storm of nationalism, xenophobia, conservatism and “Little Englander” isolationism, tearing up social and human rights and further shutting down freedom of movement. The consequences would be dire, and NCAFC members at our most recent conference rightly voted to campaign against exit.
We discovered in today’s news that our NUS President Megan Dunn has joined the official “In Campaign” board, alongside Conservative, Lib Dem and Blairite politicians, business leaders and the former head of the Army.
It is good that the President is respecting NUS policy by campaigning against exit. However, this is the wrong way to do it. And by reports from other NUS officers and representatives, Dunn did this entirely without consultation or democratic input (which is becoming a bit of a habit for her).
We don’t just oppose exit, we also oppose the current state of the EU. It guarantees freedom of movement for many, but erects a “Fortress Europe” against migrants. It helps guarantee certain rights, but enforces neoliberal economic policies. It is painted as a beacon of solidarity between nations, but its democracy is lacking and it stands for, and imposes, the interests of the rich and powerful – the ruling class.
Of course, having the UK quit won’t solve any of these problems. Our national governments are no better, and hold no more potential for the left than the EU does. The left cannot argue to retreat into our respective nation-states and re-raise borders and division: that can only be reactionary. Instead, we have to fight for a better Europe, and indeed a better world – open borders and genuine democracy, freedom and social justice – a socialist Europe and a socialist world. Transforming Europe will require a massive fight by an internationalist left, based in the workers’ movement and on an understanding of the fundamentally opposed interests that are at play. We can only win people to this campaign by setting out our ideas clearly, and drawing an uncompromising line between ourselves and those who want the EU to remain a tool of business and the ruling class.
The campaign against exit cannot and must not be separated from our efforts to transform Europe. By joining forces with Tories, business leaders and generals to campaign against exit, the NUS President is providing them with left cover and, in practice, helping them to reinforce the status quo. Any attempt to put forward a distinct vision will be futile unless we as a movement break with those people.
Instead of joining the same team as our opponents, the student movement should link up with the labour movement and the rest of the left, in the UK and across Europe, to fuse an independent campaign against exit with a forward-looking, positive campaign for a democratic, socially just Europe. Our campaign should be democratic and grassroots, not run by a self-appointed board. And it should focus energy right now on opposing David Cameron’s attempts to renegotiate the terms of union to attack migrants, workers or civil liberties. We have to stop the tide, and start pushing it back in the other direction.
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