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Brexit How can working people benefit from Britain leaving the EU?

BREXIT has dominated British politics for the past two years and is likely to do so for the next two.

There is also no escaping the fact this has been a debate dominated by voices from the right. 

The Scottish Socialist Party is therefore eager to explore how working people might benefit from these Brexit negotiations.

To that end we have organised a forum under the auspices of our newspaper The Scottish Socialist Voice, bringing together several influential voices to consider what demands the left might make to influence the outcome.

As Brexit is inevitable we believe the left should focus not on overturning the 2016 vote but on how best to deliver a “Brexit premium,” as it were, for working people.

Those who argued a Leave vote would be a defeat for the ruling class and an opportunity for the left have some explaining to do. 
For whatever the merits of the tactic at the time, we can surely all agree it didn’t happen that way.

Brexit was a victory for the right, for Nigel Farage’s Ukip and the “Little Englanders” who wanted to “take back control.” 

It was they who obsessed over Europe for two decades. It was they who demanded the referendum. And it was their victory.

The SSP has never been a fan of the European Union. Although we voted to Remain in 2016 we saw that as “the lesser of two evils.” But we accepted the result. 

We believe it is now vital the left fully appreciates the implications of the fact we have no team on the park here. 

We have influenced the Brexit debate little and are now at the mercy of two sets of neoliberals who plan further attacks on working people.

So how does the left influence these negotiations? What Brexit premium, if any, can be achieved to benefit working people? 

These are the questions the Scottish Socialist Voice Forum will consider on April 28 in Edinburgh with those interested in finding a way for working people to benefit from the changed political landscape.

Public ownership of key industries and utilities, which we were repeatedly told was expressly prohibited by EU regulations, surely offers one important new opening. 

Gordon Martin, Scottish organiser of the RMT, will lead this part of our discussion and explain how we return our railways and other important industries to public hands.

Another Brexit premium might be to end the casualisation, insecure jobs and poverty wages endemic in British society. 

The Scottish government announced earlier this month for example that there are now one million people here living in poverty — and most of them are working.

For the past decade average wages across Britain have struggled to maintain their purchasing power. They remain below their 2008 level and as things stand are not set to recover until the mid-2020s.

“The persistent weakness of wages,” concludes Chris Giles of The Financial Times, “is one of the most important features of the UK economy and explains the dismal performance of living standards and public dissatisfaction with British capitalism. Employees have lost bargaining power and employers see opportunities for further exploitation.”

The keynote address at our forum will be therefore be delivered by the Norwegian trade union leader and author Asbjorn Wahl who will fly over to join our panel. 

His thoughts on neoliberalism and the crisis of social democracy are worthy of wide attention. 

The left must face the new landscape in Europe, he says, with a determination to defeat the neoliberal hegemony. 

He warns the trade union movement across Europe to recognise that the supposed era of “social dialogue” is over and that social democracy itself is in profound crisis.

So how are we to mobilise public opinion behind progressive, popular ideas such as extended public ownership, ending casualisation and poverty wages and challenging the hegemony of the market?

Given Boris Johnston’s fictional promise of “an extra £350 million a week for the NHS” after a Leave vote, one popular demand would be to bring England into line with the rest of the UK by abolishing the highly iniquitous NHS prescription charges. 

This “tax on the sick” sees patients in England put at a particular disadvantage. For they alone now pay twice for their medicines (£8.80 for each item on the script) while patients in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland pay only once via general taxation. 

This is one significant Brexit premium millions of working people could benefit from if timed for withdrawal from the EU. 
Millions of working people in England would find a health parity with patients in the rest of these isles currently denied them.

An affordable social housing programme akin to the post war reconstruction is another proposal which would meet with widespread approval and end another ongoing scandal. Paid for by a Tobin tax (levy on all stock exchange transactions) this measure would meet widespread approval.

I expect further ideas like these to emerge from the Voice Forum in Edinburgh on April 28. That will be the measure of its success. 

Colin Fox is the national spokesman of the Scottish Socialist Party.

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