REMAIN: Sean McLaughlin, leader of St Andrews for Europe
The Conservatives’ election manifesto promised to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 as to whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union (EU), though it is expected that the referendum will take place later this year.
The debate continues to spark controversy and diverging views. If the United Kingdom does decide to “Brexit” it would be the first country to leave the European Union.
The Saint sat down with Sean McLaughlin, Coordinator of St Andrews for Europe, a campaign aimed at advocating British Membership of the EU. Mr McLaughlin is a fourth year international relations student who recently became interested in the EU/UK debate.
Mr McLaughlin started the campaign because he believes that “We are a lot closer to Europe in regards to politics, economics and mind-set than we think we are and our success is in a large part tied to the success of the European Union and to leave would be turning our back to a very successful economic and peace project.”
Comparing Britain now with its post war state, Mr McLaughlin believes that the growth of Europe allowed for the growth of the United Kingdom. The breakdown of the British Empire created many changes in a short amount of time and Mr McLaughlin states that it could have been “very ugly” had it not been for the formation of the EU.
In regards to the economic aspect of the debate, Mr McLaughlin mentioned that “it is not about survival, we can survive” but we would be seeing a “gradual period of slow economic decline” and we would face high levels of “uncertainty” in regards to the state of the UK if it decides to leave. Instead of “setting the nation free”, the UK leaving would “do the complete opposite” states Mr McLaughlin.
The United Kingdom has set multiple conditions to the EU if it does decide to stay in the government’s renegotiation of British membership.
The EU advocates for free movement and access to immediate benefits to migrants. One of the conditions made by the UK was to restrict access to benefits until EU migrants have been residents for four years.
When asked if the UK was being too harsh about migration rules and the benefits given to migrants Mr McLaughlin stated “No, we have to acknowledge that migration is a huge issue and accept that it has been life changing for so many people.”
However, Mr McLaughlin added, “So much migration that does good goes un-noticed because it doesn’t make the news.
“I’ll not begin to quantify the amount of Europeans living in the UK who are in large part lifeblood of the economy whether that be engineers or the like.”
Seeing as almost 40 per cent of the student population at St Andrews is not from the UK, Mr McLaughlin was asked if he thinks students would be less inclined to come to St Andrews if the UK were to leave the EU. He stated “there is no guarantee but I think it would put people off.”
Mr McLaughlin believes that it could “affect the whole dynamic of the University” as things such as visa regulations, fee status and scholarships would be affected.
Mr McLaughlin added that one of the main things the UK would be losing is its influence in swaying political and economic issues in both the EU and internationally. He indicated that currently the US has a lot of influence in the UK, and in turn the UK influences the EU. Without the link between the major superpowers, the United Kingdom would “lose its position.”
Speaking to undecided voters, Mr McLaughlin says “Why is the situation so bad? We have been allowed to thrive in so many respects.
“The onus is on those who wish to leave to prove why the situation is bad enough to remit leaving the union.”
On the topic of trade, Mr McLaughlin was firm in the belief that it would be better for the British economy to remain, saying, “A free trade deal between other parts of the world and the EU is much better than a hypothetical UK-India alone trade deal, this position which many Eurosceptic argue would almost certainly be a process of reverse colonisation.
“The UK has been and is continuing to be a driver in pushing EU trade deals around the world (and the common market) to completion.
“That the EU holds the UK back doesn’t hold to any reasonable muster or scrutiny.”
Finally, reflecting on his own work, Mr McLaughlin encourages people to join St Andrews for Europe which will be undertaking multiple debates, EU food fairs and talks with St Andrews residents.
However, he mentions that the most important thing is to vote regardless of where you are and that ‘hopefully the United Kingdom will stay in this wonderful club’.
LEAVE: James Bundy, member of the St Andrews Conservative and Unionist Association
As David Cameron continues to push forward in his European renegotiation, we met with James Bundy of the Conservative and Unionist Society to get his take on the upcoming ‘Brexit’ debate.
He started off by saying, “We are suffering from a democratic deficit.
“Over 60 per cent of laws are dictats brought on by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels… It’s a crisis of British sovereignty.”
Mr Bundy further points out that undemocratic institutions aren’t even proportional: “The tiny state of Malta receives nearly 15 times more representative power than that of the UK.”
When asked if he thought it would be better to reform, he responded: “Cameron doesn’t seem to be capable of delivering on the scale required.”
“Economically the EU holds us back,” Mr Bundy believes the union acts as a straight jacket, with “quotas restricting us from trade and attracting migration from alternative nations, with perhaps a more appropriate work-force.”
We asked James if he would support a trade deal similar to that which Norway has, without the politicised dimension – which he would accept, but is “skeptical that Cameron would be able to negotiate.”
“We are the fifth largest economy of the world – the UK most certainly can stand on it’s own, and outside of the bureaucratic mess will be able to improve relations outside and within Europe…. Britain’s trade with the rest of the EU is declining every year. “
Mr Bundy went as far to claim that “Britain is the shining light of the EU”, being the fastest growing nation’ for the past two years.
“Britain is no longer an industrial nation, we are build on trade, we are a global hub of trading, we are more than simply a cog among 25 other members.”
Generally, Mr Bundy believes that we won’t be able to keep up with globalising trade markets, such as that of the BRIC economies – which pose a “serious threat to our competitiveness.”
James also called for an end to Britain’s association with the European Court of Human Rights – stating that the new powers invested in the Supreme Court would provide “an adequate check on government.”
“If we disagree with the government’s decision we have this check, and if we don’t like the government we can vote to change our laws,” obviously this is not the case with the supranational nature of European governance, he argued.
What effect would leaving the EU have on European Students in St Andrews? Would their free fee status remain? Of course Mr Bundy recognises that this “depends entirely on the basis of the agreement made”, and even if we left the EU tomorrow, “current EU students should have nothing to fear.”
More generally Mr Bundy supports Europeans and international students in Scottish universities “so long as they bring the skills and talent required.”
When questioned on Theresa May’s moves towards cutting graduate visas for international students – he claimed that international student’s visa status should be “based on their job, skill and the need we have in the country.”
Mr Bundy wanted to make very clear that he is not anti-immigration – but instead wishes to “see migration which benefits all countries.”
“Currently the UK government has a target of 100,000 net migration, yet at the moment we are set to take in over 280,000 – and because of EU quotas and the freedom of movement system, we are forced to cut down non-EU migration.
“This means we are forced to reject many doctors and other highly skilled workers from India and Pakistan among other countries.”
On the issue of the refugee crisis that has engulfed the EU in the past year, Mr Bundy believes that currently “we are doing enough – per head Britain is giving the most of any developed nation, 0.7 per cent of GDP.”
What he believes would be best is to “invest in UN agencies to provide adequate settlement in neighbouring regions through properly controlled foreign aid.”
Mr Bundy also claimed that “five or six senior Conservatives are verging on backing out, including Liam Fox and Ian Duncan Smith.”
Indeed, “Jeremy Corbyn is a Eurosceptic – but now he’s leader is unable to publicly support this position,” he added.
In sum, James would say if you want to “protect British democracy, restore national sovereignty and have a more prosperous economy, vote out.”