Mare Nostrum and Leading from Within

Boat Migrants Risk Everything for a New Life in Europe:  African asylum seekers rescued off boats and taken aboard an Italy navy ship, June 8, 2014.By Toni Giugliano

We’ll give you helicopters. We’ll send the Navy. But you can keep the refugees.

David Cameron’s response to the ongoing crisis that is unfolding in the Mediterranean not only sums-up the most inward-looking debate on immigration Britain has ever seen – it highlights why Westminster desperately needs a real progressive voice in a position of power.

Last autumn the UK Government refused to support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean for fear it would act as a pull factor and encourage more refugee crossings. Those claims were repeated until last week’s tragedy. Instead of working with its neighbours to avoid more catastrophes, the UK echoed the chorus of Europe’s xenophobes. By refusing to support Italy’s admirable Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) initiative which has rescued around 150,000 people, Britain is complicit in the scaling down of resources that could have helped save more lives.

But suddenly, fear of the impending ballot box, criticisms that more refugees could have been saved and the public outcry led by organisations like Amnesty International and Oxfam compelled Westminster to rapidly change its tune. With only days before the election, Cameron has insisted Britain will play its part “as it always does”, but, on the condition that tiny Malta and neighbouring Mediterranean states continue to shelter the refugees. As with Syrian refugees, Cameron has chosen to lock the gates of fortress Britain, sending a very clear message to people who badly need our help: sorry…we’re full.

Tonight dozens more people have drowned off the coast of Sicily trying to reach Europe’s shores. The reality is that the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean is not just Italy’s or Malta’s problem. It is Europe’s problem because it is Europe’s border. Does the Prime Minister think that the migrants who try to smuggle into Britain by chasing trucks at Calais appear out of thin air? In a European Union built on the principle of the free movement of people, our national borders aren’t the white cliffs of Dover, but the rocky shores of Lampedusa. That’s why it’s in the UK’s interest to ensure that Europe’s borders are adequately maintained.

More crucially, Britain has failed to take responsibility for its recent foreign policy. Western intervention in Libya unquestionably contributed to the present refugee crisis, and a country that played a leading role in the Libyan conflict which has subsequently destabilised the region cannot wash its hands of the country after the shooting war is over.

Europe’s immediate priority must be to agree on adequate search and rescue operations. If it can’t do even that, Europeans should question what the European Union is even for. But our real challenge is to bring long-term political stability and economic prosperity to Africa. Given Europe’s history of colonialism in Africa, we have a moral duty to at least try to do so. It may take decades to achieve but until it happens some of the poorest people in the world will continue to risk a watery death in search of a better future.

If Britain is eager to show leadership then it should lead so by example and support decriminalising illegal migration across the Mediterranean. More legal routes to safety will help put smugglers out of business and encourage migrants to report the people smugglers who are taking advantage of some of the most vulnerable.

But what are the chances of London adopting that policy when the three Westminster leaders can’t even bring themselves to recognise the benefits of migration from within the EU? We have a Prime Minister accusing EU nationals of benefit tourism despite all evidence showing that EU migrants are net economic contributors to our society.

We have a Labour Party adopting the same narrative, branding the 2004 open-door enlargement from Eastern Europe, a ‘mistake’, promising to ‘bear down’ on immigration and even producing mugs to show off just how ostentatiously tough their new policy is.

Even the Liberals, once unashamedly pro-immigration, are defending the Government’s cap on benefits for EU migrants – an extraordinary red herring, given that according to a UCL study they are 33% less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals; not to mention the irony of the 30,000 Brits currently claiming benefits in other Member States.

Given this background noise, is it surprising that Nigel Farage, according to polls, emerged from the TV debates remarkably well despite his slur on foreign HIV patients and blaming migrants for every problem afflicting modern Britain? If the leaders of the Westminster parties are too weak to stand up to UKIP’s fortress mentality and at least try to shift public opinion back to reality, where will this leave Britain?

The truth is that Labour has become ashamed to stand up for the values it used to hold dear – solidarity, compassion, human dignity. It’s the SNP (Scottish National Party) that is talking up the benefits of an open economy and the value of immigration. It’s the SNP that is arguing that the NHS would collapse without the 40% of foreign staff who are propping it up.

Westminster badly needs a party with the guts to articulate those arguments – a party that will talk about the value of people more than the value of markets. A party credible and experienced enough to hold the balance of power at Westminster but with the vision and backbone to stand up for what is right.

Europe’s capitals are watching with interest as the once great liberal Britain, now on the brink of a referendum on Europe, turns more and more inward. Scotland – it’s over to you. You were asked to stay in the Union and lead from within. You can be the vanguard of progressive change… and make Westminster come to its senses.

Toni Giugliano was a candidate for the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the 2014 European Elections. He is a member of the party’s National Executive.



Categories: Commentary

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7 replies

  1. Post looming Independence, it’ll be interesting to see what refugee camps the Ingurlish will set up at Carlisle and how they stop the endless refugees fleeing the broken “union” that doesn’t even seem to WANT to exist once the Scots leave….preferring of course to say that WE broke up a happy family,…as long as they got to play mummy and daddy, and the Scots weans “did as they were telt”.
    PERFIDIOUS ALBION??……..Do we ever expect anything else?

  2. Speaking of helicopters: I see once-housewifely Nicola Sturgeon has graduated to lady-like coiffure and sartorial elegance, topped by a private helicopter with her image painted on it. Who’s paying for all this; anybody know? The SNP? The Scottish Government (i.e. taxpayers)? Private enterprise?

    • Dear Christ,this post is about men, woman and children drowning in their thousands in the Med.and the complete lack of humanity in Wasteminsters attitude to the ongoing crisis apart from the usual platitudes from Cameron and Miliband and their acolytes yet all you can come up with is a pathetic whine about Nicola Sturgeon,bloody hell get a F****** life!

    • I wont even dignify your sexist comment about Nicola’s ‘sartorial elegance/coiffure’, with a reply.
      However I can assure you, as you seem concerned, that the helicopter is entirely funded by the SNP and members like myself, who are happy to do so.

    • How do you think the other Party leaders get around? When Cameron couldn’t remember what football team he was supposed to pretend to support he put it down to having flown over West Ham’s ground in a helicopter the previous day. Ed Milliband did a speeches in London, Cardiff and Glasgow all in the same day and all in time to get the footage on the early evening news. How do you think he did that? He wasn’t standing on Cardiff bus station asking if the number 57 goes down Sauchiehall Street.

      But seriously. we have a piece here about people losing their lives in the Mediterranean and the only thing you can think about is Nicola Sturgeon using a helicopter. Doesn’t that just illustrate the uncaring attitude that now permeates so much of the political thinking of the UK parties?

  3. I agree mainly with Tony Giugliano and I applaud the efforts of Alyn Smith and others in calling for action in the Med and for their stance in condemning the deplorable immigration detention camps in the UK where war ravaged refugees or immigrants are locked up for years.

    But it needs to be baldly stated that the European Union´s policy in North Africa has been timid, insufficient and self-interested for decades now. The EU has failed in North Africa again and again: complacent, stupid, and complicit in the tyrannies which ran Arab countries for decades. If the EU had got right behind the democratic impulse which led to the Arab Spring, then we might not be seeing the current immigration crisis and so many wars in the region.

    As it was, the EU pussy footed about as usual, coming out with the same banal platitudes, and decided to spend all of its efforts instead on crushing the life out of Greece, Portugal and Spain with hardcore neoliberal austerity measures, leading to a serious erosion of democratic rights in the south of Europe, and endangering the EU as a whole. It is no coincidence that the dictator currently running Egypt was recently received by the King of Spain, a country where it is now a crime to “insult Spain”, whatever that means, or to take a photograph of a policeman….

    An indie Scotland needs to take a role in reforming the European Union, or better still, replacing it with something else. The European Union does not work for European citizens. It is a neo-liberal organization run by the heads of state of European countries who use “the idea of Europe” as a cover to impose draconian neoliberal policies on the people of south Europe.

    Given the frankly psychopathic inclinations of the Troika, completely disregarding the well-being of Europe´s citizens and the principle of solidarity which the EU is supposed to be founded on, I cannot support the EU any longer. I am all for the idea of European union, but not at the cost of the well-being of millions of European citizens in the south of Europe. What kind of “idea of Europe” is that? Hitler wanted a united Europe too..without a meaningful principle of solidarity, a united Europe loses its raison d’etre and becomes what it is today – a club of rich bullies and bankers..

    The Troika of the EU, the ECB and the IMF have blood on their hands, it is as simple as that. I have seen the effects of their austerity with my own eyes.

    The EU is a top down organization with a mickey mouse parliament which has no real power, for all that there are many good Euro MEPS. What we need is a European People´s Alliance, a European parliament or assembly in every EU member state to discuss European issues, and the active participation of the European citizens who have chosen to make another EU country their home in those parliaments. You cannot expect to have a workable Europe without investing in the creation of European citizens.

    We also need a bill of rights for European citizens, instead of all the baloney…Beethoven´s Ninth, the EU driving license, EU “citizenship”….the only citizenship that I know of which does not include the right to vote at national elections in your chosen second country. As things stand, most of the EU citizens resident and paying taxes for years in Scotland won´t get a vote on Thursday. What kind of “citizenship” is that?

    The Schuman Declaration of 1950, one of the founding texts of the EU, declares that “Europe will not be built all at once or according to a single plan”….

    …well you better believe that if the EU starts to unravel, it will fall apart all at once, and as for a single plan, it seems to me we have that – Schuman will be turning in his grave – and it´s called never ending neoliberal austerity.

  4. Hey Frederick(Kreugger?)

    The helicopter’s gonna be here for a wee while.

    And if Cameron and his US chums did’nt bomb the shit outa Libya and set their funded and managed attack dogs,the IS, on Syria we wouldn’t have all these refugees in the first place.

    Oh but you’d rather go for the pathetic SNP and Nicola Sturgeon Bad routine.

    Fcuking saddo.

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