by Lewis Akers, Young Scottish Socialist Organiser
At the start of 2016 the Scottish Youth Parliament released their manifesto – a very large consultation of the views of young people in Scotland. It highlights, like poll after poll, that young people overwhelmingly support Remaining in the European Union. This is not because of some false romanticism of the European Union but because of the tangible results of many EU-led schemes.
European Social Fund
The European Social Fund is a scheme set up by the EU which aims to reintegrate those who are socially excluded back into society via the means of gaining new skills – something which was discussed at the last SSP National Conference. The scheme provides £57m a year to economically disadvantaged areas and students. This money has been put towards support for students through grants.
Additionally it has also been used to help fund for example Cornwall College where 2,000 places have been made for people aged between 16 and 18 to up-skill them. Although the Association of Colleges think this money is a positive development, they also see that it is a mere 3% of total funding. However this money is crucial for many who have been left behind by mainstream education and they say there is no guarantee there would be an equivalent scheme in the event of an exit from the European Union.
The Resolution Foundation recently found, that those aged between 16 and 24 are the hardest hit by zero hour contracts and poverty pay. For young people, the EU and workers protections is something which should be of central concern. The EU guarantees the same rights to part time workers as full time workers which means that those in precarious work are still guaranteed rest time and paid holidays. These are fundamental workers rights which are guaranteed by the EU at the moment arguably due to the strength of organised Labour on the continent. This the TUC have warned could place these rights at risk. Although those who support a leave vote would argue that “could” is the operative word in what the TUC say; the alternative from the EU guaranteeing workers rights is trusting the Tories to protect young people from the current precarious conditions of employment.
The Erasmus Scheme was set up in 1987 to allow students grants to studying abroad and to provide funding to groups organising trips to mainland Europe. Having benefited from the Erasmus Scheme and been involved in filling out the extensive funding forms I know the great opportunity it presents to young people in opening up a more international outlook. Last year – 15,000 UK students benefited from studying abroad through the Erasmus scheme which provides bursaries and grants to students who hope to spend time studying in Europe. After a Leave vote, this, however this would not be guaranteed. Although Norway is part of the scheme through its own negotiations the Swiss recently held a referendum on EU freedom of movement and has since been excluded from the scheme which is what would be expected of the UK voted to leave the EU.
Free Movement and EU Opportunities
Although I don’t believe that people should have to leave their country of origin to live a comfortable life or to make use of their skills the reality today is that many young people have to and the option should be open to them if and only if they choose to. For our English counterparts who have to pay both for tuition fees and just scraping by an existence university can cost up to £50,000 a year.
This amount is significantly less in on the continent with Austria, Finland and Sweden supporting free education. This means students outside Scotland have the opportunity to be significantly less burdened with debt. Although youth unemployment across Europe is at a shameful 22.4%, the opportunity for employment on the continent is better in many countries with stronger economies like Germany and Austria. The opportunities should not be closed off.
Although these may to many seem like small examples of the benefits of the EU the reality is that neither in the case of a leave or remain vote will it be a victory for socialists due to the balance of forces in Britain today. Therefore as socialists we must analyse the debate and come to the conclusion which is the lesser of the two evils, and continue to build the forces of socialism here in Scotland and across Europe.