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Want to win for women? Then you've got to vote to stay in Europe

We mustn't let a shady coalition of men take Britain out of Europe, warns Catherine Bearder. 

Many of us are tired of the EU referendum debate being dominated by men who appear to be only interested in furthering their own political careers. So as we celebrate International Women's Day, let's reclaim this debate and put women back at its heart. Because let's be honest, it is difficult to believe that the likes of Nigel Farage, George Galloway and Boris Johnson have the interests of women as their top priority. So it's vital that we speak out and make ourselves heard in this increasingly heated debate about this country's future.

Together in Europe we have made great strides forward for equality in recent decades. Take workplace rights. EU law has banned discrimination between women and men and enshrined the principle of equal pay for equal work. Women who become pregnant cannot be treated differently and have the right to take paid leave from work to visit a doctor. And mothers across Europe have the right to at least 14 weeks maternity leave and a minimum of four months off to care for newborn children. Ukip and right-wing Tories have made it perfectly clear that the first thing they want to do if the UK leaves Europe is tear up many of these hard-won protections. Nigel Farage has gone as far as saying that working mothers are worth less than men. We must not him and others turn the clock back on these hard won rights

Of course there remains a lot to do. Analysis this week shows that a woman in the UK is likely to earn a whopping £300,000 less than a man over her working life. Meanwhile women across Europe are paid an average of one-sixth less than men, meaning in effect they are working two months for free every year. So it is significant that the EU has made it a central objective to eliminate the gender pay gap. This includes improving pay transparency, a move Ukip and Tory MEPs voted against; and promoting measures to tackle underlying issues such as lack of affordable childcare. The anti-Europeans may not like it, but in a world of multinational companies and growing interconnectedness, we must work together to deliver pay equality.

By acting together in the EU we are working to ensure women can go about their daily lives without fear of violence or harassment. A shocking one in three women over 15 in Europe has experienced physical or sexual violence. The EU has put forward a raft of measures to combat violence against women and led  international efforts to end female genital mutilation. It also recognises victims of human trafficking to be just that, victims. It is enshrined in law that they must be given the protection they need and not treated as criminals, a law which I am now pushing to be properly implemented across all EU countries. And since last year, restraining orders taken out by victims of domestic violence in the UK apply across the EU, protecting women from abusive partners if they move or travel abroad.

This week the EU also ratified the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that requires signatories to provide female victims of violence with the support they need including sheltered accommodation, psychological support and telephone helplines. Now the EU is calling on its member countries to ratify it as well. The UK signed up to the treaty in 2012 but the government is now dragging its heels in fully ratifying it, most likely because swingeing cuts are forcing many women's shelters to close. I hope the additional pressure from the EU will cause the government to think again. I am also seeking European sources of funding to help women's charities in their work providing vital support for victims of trafficking and domestic violence. 

The fight for gender equality is far from over and there remains much to be done. But recent years have shown we can achieve so much more when we work together with our European partners. Ukip and the anti-Europeans say they say they want to take our country back. Well I say let's take our country forward. Let's stay in and together we can continue building a stronger, safer and more equal future for women wherever they live in Europe.

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Why Jeremy Corbyn’s evolution on Brexit matters for the Scottish Labour party

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, an ideological ally of Corbyn, backs staying in the customs union. 

Evolution. A long, slow, almost imperceptible process driven by brutal competition in a desperate attempt to adapt to survive. An accurate description then by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, of Labour’s shifting, chimera of a Brexit policy. After an away day that didn’t decamp very far at all, there seems to have been a mutation in Labour’s policy on customs union. Even McDonnell, a long-term Eurosceptic, indicated that Labour may support Tory amendments when the report stages of the customs and trade bills are finally timetabled by the government (currently delayed) to remain in either “The” or “A” customs union.

This is a victory of sorts for Europhiles in the Shadow Cabinet like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer. But it is particularly a victory for Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A strong ally of Jeremy Corbyn who comes from the same Bennite tradition, Leonard broke cover last month to call for exactly such a change to policy on customs union.

Scotland has a swathe of marginal Labour-SNP seats. Its voters opted voted by a majority in every constituency to Remain. While the Scottish National Party has a tendency to trumpet this as evidence of exceptionalism – Scotland as a kind-of Rivendell to England’s xenophobic Mordor – it’s clear that a more Eurocentric, liberal hegemony dominates Scottish politics. Scotland’s population is also declining and it has greater need of inward labour through migration than England. It is for these reasons that the SNP has mounted a fierce assault on Labour’s ephemeral EU position.

At first glance, the need for Labour to shift its Brexit position is not as obvious as Remainers might have it. As the Liberal Democrat experience in last year’s general election demonstrates, if you want to choose opposing Brexit as your hill to die on… then die you well may. This was to some extent replicated in the recent Scottish Labour Leadership race. Anas Sarwar, the centrist challenger, lost after making Brexit an explicit dividing line between himself and the eventual winner, Leonard. The hope that a juggernaut of Remainer fury might coalesce as nationalist resentment did in 2015 turned out to be a dud. This is likely because for many Remainers, Europe is not as high on their list of concerns as other matters like the NHS crisis. They may, however, care about it however when the question is forced upon them.

And it very well might be forced. One day later this year, the shape of a deal on phase two of the negotiations will emerge and Parliament will have to vote, once and for all, to accept or reject a deal. This is both a test and an incredible political opportunity. Leonard, a Scottish Labour old-timer, believes a deal will be rejected and lead to a general election.

If Labour is to win such an election resulting from a parliamentary rejection of the Brexit deal, it will need many of those marginal seats in Scotland. The SNP is preparing by trying to box Labour in. Last month its Westminster representatives laid a trap. They invited Corbyn to take part in anti-Brexit talks of opposition parties he had no choice but to reject. In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon has been ripping into the same flank that Sarwar opened against Richard Leonard in the leadership contest, branding Labour’s Brexit position “feeble”. At the same time the Scottish government revealed a devastating impact assessment to accompany the negative forecasts leaked from the UK government. If Labour is leading a case against a “bad deal”,  it cannot afford to be seen to be SNP-lite.

The issue will likely come to a head at the Scottish Labour Conference early next month, since local constituency parties have already sent a number of pro-EU and single market motions to be debated there. They could be seen as a possible challenge to the leadership’s opposition to the single market or a second referendum. That is, If these motions make it to debate, unlike at national Labour Conference in 2017, where there seemed to be an organised attempt to prevent division.

When Leonard became leader, he stressed co-operation with the Westminster leadership. Still, unlike the dark “Branch Office” days of the recent past, Scottish Labour seems to be wielding some influence in the wider party again. And Scottish Labour figures will find allies down south. In January, Thornberry used a Fabian Society speech in Edinburgh, that Enlightenment city, to call for a dose of Scottish internationalism in foreign policy. With a twinkle in her eye, she fielded question after question about Brexit. “Ah…Brexit,” she joked. “I knew we’d get there eventually”. Such was Thornberry’s enthusiasm that she made the revealing aside that: “If I was not in the Leadership, then I’d probably be campaigning to remain in the European Union.”