Hemingways’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ opens with an epigraph, from a short essay by the seventeenth-century British poet John Donne;
“Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
Donne wrote that no person stands alone—“No man is an island, entire of itself”—because everyone belongs to a community. Donne admonishes us not to ask who has died when we hear a funeral bell toll, for it tolls for everyone in the human race.
These words are lost on the narrow minded Brexit campaigners, who conflate the matter of economic migration with the tragic plight of refugees fleeing war. Many are fleeing from countries such as Syria, which the UK is bombing. The tragic irony is palpable and the level of debate is debasing democracy. That fear mongering not only turns society against itself it distracts from the terrible situation of some of the most needy people across the globe. Last week I watched Boris on the Brexit bus declare, “Let’s take back our country”. From whom I ask?
How is the Polish (immigrant) Plumber in Scotland any different from the English (expat) restaurant owner in Spain? There is no difference, but the debate leads some to believe that a person from the UK has a greater right to go and live and work in the EU than someone from the EU has to come to the UK.
I took part in an EU debate recently and a Brexiter Tory MP asked, “The EU is full of unelected, unaccountable officials - does anyone know who any of the commissioners are?”
Firstly, all 751 of the MEP’s are directly elected and Commissioners are accountable to the elected body of European Parliament - unlike in the UK where we have an un-elected House of Lords. Secondly, media coverage of Brussels is so limited (there are currently no Scottish Journalists there and very few UK journalists) meaning that the opportunity to engage and be informed is limited and very narrow.
A recent study by UCL estimated that EU migrants contributed over £20 billion to UK public finances and our public services simply could not function without those who come from the EU to work in our communities.
The European Single Market has delivered economic and social benefits for Scotland & the UK. The freedoms of the Single Market have removed barriers to trade and opened a market of over 500 million people. Our Westminster leader Angus Robertson recently spoke at Hewlett Packard Enterprises about the benefits of remaining within the EU, pointing out that more Scotch is sold in France in one month than Cognac in a year, surprise rippled round the room.
Exports to the EU from the Food and Drink sector, Scotland's biggest international export sector, were worth over £1.8 billion in 2013.
The EU has been at the forefront of securing rights and advancing gender equality across Europe. The Conservatives have historically been forced to treat women fairly. It wasn't until the European Commission took legal action against the UK government in 1982 for failing to comply with EU law, that a Conservative government was forced to expand the Equal Pay Act to include a right to equal pay for work of equal value.
Being in the European Union is as much about what we put in as what we get out. Scotland has the most progressive LGBTI rights and protections of any other nation or country in the EU, and the UK as a whole is not far behind. Our stance on Gay Marriage and influence over EU policy has contributed to the EU’s overall standards and many other EU countries have benefitted from that.
So when we ask ourselves for whom the bell tolls in the EU, the answer is – for all of us. We are Global citizens and we must bring down the barriers of language and discrimination in the way that the EU has brought down the barriers of trade and conflict and kept Europe at peace for the last 60 years.