In less than forty days time there will be a referendum on whether the UK should remain a member of the EU. Regardless of your views I would like to encourage all students to register to vote or, if you have registered but know you will be away on the 23rd June, to organise a postal or proxy vote. It is not difficult to register or organise a postal or proxy vote and I believe it is vital no student at St Andrews is denied their democratic right to exercise their vote in a ballot about the direction of our country and what will determine our future.
It will come as no surprise that I firmly believe that it is in the UK’s long term national interest to remain part of the EU. As the Prime Minister acknowledges and President Obama has stated, it is in the UK’s national interest to have a seat at the top table of European decision making and to remain ‘in’ the most successful peace process the world has ever known.
In my first year IR class, I first learnt about the history of the EU. It was the time of the debates around the Maastricht Treaty and I was taught that the fundamental purpose of the EU was “to make war not merely unthinkable but materially impossible” so that nations who once fought one another now had to work peaceably together for the common good.[pullquote]I believe it is vital no student at St Andrews is denied their democratic right to exercise their vote in a ballot about the direction of our country and what will determine our future.[/pullquote]
That quote was originally attributed to Jean Monnet but later I learnt that it came from Robert Schuman, another founding father of the EU, whose life was shaped by his experiences. Born after the Franco-Prussian War, to a father from Lorraine, he was for thirty two years a German national, but after World War One, he became a French national and local MP, as Alsace-Lorraine fell back into French hands. During World War Two, Alsace-Lorraine went back into German hands. Due to Schuman’s opposition to the Nazi’s, he was nearly sent off to Dachau Concentration Camp where death would have been inevitable but instead was put under house arrest in the Palatinate where he escaped and was pursued for the rest of the war.
Robert’s story of courage and bravery still inspires today because he knew that it was only by working with Germany that long term peace would be secured across Europe. Sixty six years ago this month marks the signing of the Schuman Declaration which created the European Coal and Steel Community, the first European Community, which today we call the EU. I wonder what Schuman would make of the UK’s referendum? Apart from despairing at our short sightedness, he would probably highlight that the alternative would see us walking away from our closest neighbours and allies having no say over the decisions which impact upon us but still having to pay to have access to trade in the single market. I would be disappointed if people want to walk away, have no say but still have to pay to trade.
An estimated 300,000 jobs in Scotland rely on our exports into the single market and many of our consumer rights and social rights stem from our membership of the EU. Then there is the direct impact on higher education where access to valuable pan European research funding would be directly threatened resulting in St Andrews being denied access to this essential resource. Will the student exchange scheme of Erasmus exist if Brexit happens? Thousands of students across Scotland benefit from this life-changing programme of studying abroad for a semester or a year.
The decision in this referendum to remain or not to remain in the EU will be made in less than six weeks. Please ensure that you have the right to vote and make your voice heard in this debate.