I took part in a debate in Govan last night, making the case for remaining in the European Union. The events of the past couple of weeks – Orlando attacks, then Jo Cox’s death – have shaken me to the core, and re-affirmed that we must move beyond a politics of hate and ‘othering’, to a politics of inclusion, understanding and respect.
I conveyed my concerns about where our politics is going, and the very real threats to our democracy as I see them – not membership of the EU – but rather, a poisonous right wing rhetoric that is opening up space for creeping fascism and extreme views that de-humanise us all, and break down the social fabric of our communities.
I was debating with people arguing a left case for leaving the EU. I can understand some of where they’re coming from, though I fail to see any progressive vision of where leaving the EU will take us. What I find most bemusing is that there seems to be no recognition that the circumstance and climate that a vote to leave would be taken in, would be a clear win for the right, and pave the way for a far harsher version of intolerance and turbo capitalism than we have now, with diminishing rights and protection for workers.
Those who know me, know that I am not one for spinning fear, but rather am (probably annoyingly) optimistic, always trying to shine a light on the belief I have in the capacity of people to do good by others. I have profound belief that our inter-connected young generations have the capacity and wherewithal to shape a different kind of future for Scotland, the UK, Europe and the world. It is up to us to build a different kind of future, and offer hope to others that it is possible.
You can tell from the questions they asked, that most of the audience at the debate last night were more or less decided on a vote to leave the EU. What I didn’t realise until after it, is that there was a core contingent of UKIP supporters, and those working alongside them in the leave campaign. I was accosted after the debate by almost all of these leave campaigners, who were angry at me for expressing my concern around creeping fascism, and took the opportunity to point in my face and tell me my views were ‘dangerous’.
A small mob of them waited outside of the building, causing the MP who was debating alongside me to step in, and caution me not to walk down the street on my own. I found all of this quite upsetting, particularly because it was a realisation that the very people I got in to politics to make a difference for – people who feel marginalised and disenfranchised – are the very people turning to parties like UKIP, and its happening here. Our politics in the UK is so polarised and combative, that any chance of meaningful dialogue is lost.
After waiting in a tense environment, I got picked up and driven home by my girlfriend, as the MP was collected in a private cab, as recommended due to increased safety concerns for elected politicians. It occurs to me that now, more than ever, we need young people’s voices, and actions, to create new narratives of what’s possible, and open up space for a more inclusive and diverse society.
We must reach out, and listen to the concerns of the voiceless, and those who feel cut off from politics, and work with them to build the new. If we don’t, others will, and the future they’ll offer will be one based on intolerance, and scapegoating, not one of inclusion, diversity and respect. We need to stop talking amongst ourselves, and expecting communities to come to us.
The first step to mobilisation is education. I wrote a book with another 11 young Europeans, it is a 4 step guide to empowering Europe and our generation. We called it ‘Who, If Not Us?’ Please share it, read it, and pass it on – http://www.whoifnotus.eu/about/
Here’s to our future, and to love and respect winning over hate.
[Article featured on Scottish Green Party website]