A warm welcome to a new contributor to insideMoray, Timothy Eagle. Tim will be chipping in with features and news articles hopefully on a regular basis, giving a new voice to community news in Moray. Tim starts today with a look at the battle of Moray hearts and minds for our future in Europe.
THE EUROPEAN UNION was a necessity in the beginning – tired and broken in the aftermath and brutality of the Second World War, it was a politician’s design with a premise that by closer trade association’s countries would be less likely to go to war with each other.
However, from the humble agreement between Germany and France and four other nations in 1950 the EU now covers 28 member nations and over 500million people.
So welcome to the United States of Europe. Or perhaps not – or not yet anyway.
Nestled in the tranquility of the Moray Firth some Moray residents may wonder what the fuss is all about, but Moray has felt the cold hand of the EU before and continues to feel it today.
Once a series of vibrant fishing communities spread along our coastline, harbours filled with boats of all shapes and sizes, there was a strong economy made up of loyal hardworking locals. This was to change when Brussels took control with the common fisheries policy, a policy giving fishing vessels belonging to member states free and equal access to the waters of all other members.
This move was to become an economic, environmental and ecological disaster – and hit Moray hard.
Europe’s grip on Agriculture was less devastating but no less frustrating for those trying to farm the land – while the formed, reformed and changed again position of the common agricultural policy attempted to create a one-stop approach to agriculture in Europe, despite the obviously huge variations in farming within member states.
The latest reforms put further pressures on farmers during already tough times, with three crop rules and greening measures in a country which already abounds in crop diversity and local biodiversity.
Walk around any small town or village in Moray and you can see the local shops and businesses that keep our part of Scotland strong and our residents resilient and innovative. But small business fairs poorly in a European super-state where bureaucracy and red tape fill the minds and time of any would-be entrepreneur and small business owner.
Whilst the multi-nationals can dictate their terms, move money around the world and pay expensive legal teams to find ways around problems, local businesses are left counting the cost of ever increasing rules and regulations.
But is it all-bad?
Europe also offers so much. Access to a giant market of comparatively rich people willing and wishing to buy goods and services from the UK. It provides a flow of people bringing core skills and youth, keen to work – which helps to pay for public services and a key voice in a powerful union of countries in a world where the bigger you are the easier you are heard.
Supporters of staying in would argue what options are there for us if we were to leave, trade with Europe is worth £400billion to our economy each year, 52% of total trade, the £11billion membership cost is a small price to pay for that.
Leaving would mean having to negotiate trade deals throughout Europe, which could take years and are likely to be difficult given Europe’s leader will likely be un-pleased the UK has left. Without the voice of the UK in Europe large multinationals may be persuaded to move elsewhere leaving many without jobs here in the UK.
Those who support leaving would argue much of this is scaremongering, that the UK even without Europe is a strong economic powerhouse with several key allies and products and services on offer that European countries would desire and therefore be happy to negotiate new trade deals.
They argue also that our small businesses would be free from the burdens of excess regulations and so be able to expand and that migration could be controlled allowing more jobs for British people and less demands on the key services like the NHS.
But yet as David Cameron sits to rest after mammoth talks on a reformed Europe, which he hopes will persuade voters to vote to stay and so soon after the decision on Scottish Independence, we will on the June 23 go to the ballot boxes once again.
We may be tempted to think about individual issues as reasons to leave or stay, we may be tempted to believe in individualism and independence or we may try in vain to rationalise and reason on what is likely to be brutal campaigns by the leave and stay groups.
Whatever we as individuals do and think over the next few months, we can be certain of this – that as Mr Cameron states leaving the EU would be a “leap in the dark”. This is about leaving an institution that for good or bad has shaped our laws and lives, none more so than here in Moray.
It perhaps is not a question that can be answered with a selfish heart but with an open mind, not perhaps a question to answer for the benefit of the self or the few but a question to consider for the benefit of us all in Scotland and in the UK.
As Nick Robinson from the BBC puts it: “This vote. It matters, it will make a difference. And it’s not about Cameron, or Boris’s or Corbyn’s future. It is about you and yours and our country.”