EU in out, shake it all about

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 29 February 2016 in Editor's note

The thing about this referendum is you just don’t know who's in or out, writes Mandy Rhodes

 

Just as the Conservative MSP and one-time contender for party leader, Margaret Mitchell, was coming out as a Brexiter, another rather senior Tory MSP was telling me that the blue line was solid in Scotland and they were all supporting staying in.

And while there may be some irony in the fact that Mitchell is the architect of the recently enacted Apologies Bill, that’s the thing about this referendum, you just don’t know. It could be you. It could be him. It could be her. You just can’t tell an outer by looking anymore.

There was a time when it was all too obvious. The anti-European brigade looked a little like the loony left but talked like the rabid right. They were as barking as next door’s French poodle and had heady debates about misshapen veg, bends in bananas and being told what to do.


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But David Cameron’s caricature of the UKIP membership as “a sort of bunch of fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists” may have applied to some then but trying to work out who is for and who is agin’ the EU now just doesn’t seem so clear cut anymore.

Scotland already has one UKIP MEP and polls predict up to seven MSPs after May. And while David Coburn may not be everyone’s cup of tea, with his tweets blaming the EU for his toaster not browning and his descriptors of women as “a special sort of a man”, some Scots clearly saw the appeal.

The latest Scottish Social Attitudes survey last week showed that Euroscepticism is at an all-time high in Scotland. Indeed, with 60 per cent of people classed as Eurosceptic – just five points below the figure for Britain as a whole – and with only one-fifth happy to ‘leave things as they are’, it would suggest that the appetite for a much looser relationship with the EU doesn’t just stop at the Scottish border.

The problem is that the concept of being a Eurosceptic is as elastic as that of being a pro-European. What does any of it actually mean?

Many of us indulge in gum-bashing about the EU, what with its silly laws and constricting practices. But when it comes down to it, do we care enough to vote to pull out?

The fact is, Scotland is as Eurosceptic as anywhere else in the UK. We may show up in polls as being slightly more in favour of being part of the EU but that doesn’t mean we approve of its current shape, creeping powers or its seemingly authoritarian trajectory of travel. And if that sounds like a familiar argument for going it alone, then that’s because it is.

It’s just 18 months since the Scottish referendum and so it is inevitable that a game of compare and contrast, of what was said then to what is said now, will continue unabated throughout this campaign. But this time we are wise.

Ever since the Prime Minister emerged sleepy-eyed from his extended European sleepover, clutching his ‘special status’ deal and his date with destiny, it’s been hyperbole central. And for Scots, there has to be a sense of déjà vu. 

The Channel Tunnel becoming an unguarded fast-track to migrant camps, terrorists targeting an un-EU Britain as a soft option, companies upping sticks and relocating, trade suffering, job losses, defences weakened, power gone... the hypocrisy and contradictions from the in-camp knows no bounds. And our memories don’t need to be that long.

But when Scots-born Michael Gove, who fervently argued against Scottish independence in 2014, stood up and basically echoed Nicola Sturgeon in his Britain is not too wee, too poor and too stupid to go it alone speech, even he must have had to choke back the gall.

During the independence referendum, the SNP was consistently asked to paint a detailed picture of what an independent Scotland would look like: currency, EU membership, taxation, welfare, the economy. And for their opponents, there was the gift of that less than little White Paper to test their arguments against. And the SNP failed.

So with opinion teetering around that half-way mark – in or out – isn’t it incumbent on us all to ask what would Brexit look like and who should be supplying the facts?

We have a UK party of government split down the middle facing a referendum that could decisively fail to settle its own internal issues and with Cameron knowing his enemies were also once his friends. 

For the left, there is the struggle of reconciling some of the more punitive aspects of the EU, both social and economic, with its own politics. Only last week, the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras threatened to block future EU agreements after ten countries agreed to take steps to limit the flow of migrants crossing their borders. Tsipras said he would not allow Greece to become a “warehouse for souls”. 

And for Jeremy Corbyn, the problems are even more fundamental. With polls showing an estimated 40 per cent of Labour voters minded to vote out, he could see Labour suffer another Scottish-like tsunami as what’s left of his working-class base disappears.

And for the Nationalists, there is the risk that while they continue to argue that Scotland is more pro-EU than the rest of the UK de facto, they ignore the possibility that we are not. So what would an exit mean for them?

But amid all of this, wouldn’t it be ironic if it was the broad appeal of an SNP First Minister that helped a Conservative Prime Minister win a vote to keep the UK in the EU and, in so doing, ultimately stopped the FM from achieving her goal to have a Scotland outwith the UK

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