Molly Scott Cato – the Green Party’s MEP to the South West and Gibraltar – first heard of the movement at university, when a Chilean refugee asked if she was “one of those greens”. It was only after having her first child that she left her career in academia to work for the party that shared her belief in social justice and protecting the environment for future generations. Now, when Molly Scott Cato is not representing her region in the European Parliament, she visits projects such as West Town Farm, an organic beef farm just beyond Alphington. Throughout our conversation, it becomes clear that Molly is passionate about how our place in the European Union benefits both the South West and Britain as a whole.
How, then, is the Green Party approaching the ‘In’ campaign during the run-up to the EU referendum? Two years since party leader Natalie Bennett announced the Green ‘three yeses’ stance – yes to a referendum; yes to EU reform; yes to staying in the union – most party members are still in favour of Britain’s membership. The difficulty they now face is that, on the surface, they share this stance with the likes of David Cameron, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
This concerns Molly, who feels that Cameron’s negotiation tactics could backfire, as “ultimately, threats to leave either wear thin or people start to say, ok, well leave”. I remember similar foot-stamping during the Scottish independence referendum. Molly laughs at this but she remains focused, always deeply engaged with the issues I raise in my questions. The other frustrating aspect of belonging to the broader ‘In’ camp is that EU reform means very different things to the Greens as opposed to, for example, the Conservatives. As Scott Cato tells me, the difference comes down to fundamentally different approaches. “My question is: where’s the best place to resist corporate power? It’s got to be a multinational institution and that’s what the EU is. [Cameron’s] question is where’s the best place to let corporations rewrite the terms of the global economy? That’s the EU.”
“where’s the best place to resist corporate power?”
It’s fair to say that most of us probably know more about what our perky PM is up to with regards to the referendum than the Green Party’s stance. Molly feels that this comes down to the fact that “the media don’t report Europe and they don’t report Greens”, as well as the ways in which British political culture differs from that on the continent. She compares the “dramatic” debates of the House of Commons with the more “civilised” coalitions and consensuses which dominate the government of other EU member states and, indeed, the running of the EU itself. While admitting that “you’re going to make policy in a different way, it’s going to be more fudged, it’s going to be less clear” in a multinational organisation, Molly sees it as the best platform for ensuring a fairer, more progressive future.
Indeed, she holds the media and the British public just as responsible for disengagement with the EU as the EU itself, which she sees as fairly representative and democratic. Her problem is with the European Commission, the organisation’s executive body. For her, they hold too much power for a body whose members are appointed by governments, rather than elected by the public. In the Parliament, representation is not the issue for Molly – instead, it is that the public have elected the “wrong people”, making it difficult to form an influential progressive block. I suppose that’s the danger of a democracy – the public are within their rights to be “wrong”.
Immigration is arguably one of the main issues to have sparked the anti-EU debate in the United Kingdom over the past couple of decades, and, in many ways, has never been more pressing an issue. While the positions of the right, and increasingly the centre, have been discussed at length, there have been few opportunities to consider the Green position. Molly certainly accepts the importance of discussing migration, particularly in light of the ongoing Syrian crisis, but questions whether accepting refugees into Europe while turning away those classed as “migrants”, who might nonetheless face difficult circumstances, is really the moral solution. As far as she’s concerned, it’s clear that the only way to cope with the influx of displaced people into Europe is to cooperate with our European neighbours. Indeed, from Molly’s point of view, the EU “offers a huge opportunity because the biggest problems are all global problems”.
Towards the end of our conversation, she is quietly confident that the referendum will swing in favour of the ‘In’ campaign, because “most young people are going to be totally turned off by the ‘Out’ campaigns, which will be dreary, flag-waving, 1950s sort of campaigns”. She may be right, but I leave the interview feeling that the pro-EU camp may need passionate advocates like Molly to enrich and enliven debate if it hopes to succeed.