Sketch: The Vote Leave campaign launch
The Scotland Leave campaign launch took place on the edge of a grey Port Glasgow industrial estate, in a factory sandwiched between the Clyde and a graveyard.
Scotland Stronger in Europe had launched in central Edinburgh, and as the train wound into Woodhall station, it was hard not to notice the difference between the two campaigns.
The train door had a glass window covering an alarm, with the instruction to break it in the case of emergencies. Someone had smashed it and stolen the hammer. It did not bode well.
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Fortunately, there was no need to escape the train. But what about the EU? Was it time to smash the emergency glass, gather up our possessions and jump out the window?
The people in the Leave campaign seemed to think so. Of course, demands for a so-called ‘Brexit’ – or in Scotland, a ‘Sexit’ – are nothing new. Tensions with the EU have been bubbling away for years – ever since we Brentered it – but finally they have reached a head. It is time for a Breferendum.
Inside the factory, the press conference took place in a small section between two towering rows of boxes. The noise of drills and whirring machinery offered proof that for now, it is just business as usual.
The press huddled together. Tom Harris, former Labour MP, former head of communications for Glasgow’s Clockwork Orange and now director of Vote Leave, stood making small talk. A communications officer went round making the press look at a man in his early 20s, standing nearby, who was wearing a ‘Vote Leave’ t-shirt. The campaign had attracted a young person, he boasted. And, given the campaign has attracted support from across the political spectrum, it would be easy to describe it as diverse, were its membership not otherwise composed entirely of white men aged 50 or above.
Eventually, Jim Sillars, a man aged 50 and above, a former deputy leader of the pro-EU SNP who is now campaigning for RISE and also for Brexit, wandered in from the car park.
Harris began by explaining some of the benefits of leaving the EU, in an effort to reach Brundecided voters. For one, the Scottish Parliament would become more powerful, he said.
“If a power is not specifically mentioned in the list of reserved powers in the Scotland Act 1998 and its successors, then it is, by default, the responsibility of Holyrood,” he announced.
That was quite exciting, even if the press didn’t seem to fully realise the significance of this point. Any power not mentioned in the Scotland Act would go to Holyrood. That is a lot of power. The power of invisibility, for example, is not mentioned in the Scotland Act. That’s just one. People moan about Westminster but leave the EU and we could have a truly transparent government. In fact, it would be see-through.
Next, he said that because of the EU, and the fact universities are forced to treat all EU citizens as equals, Scottish students were being restricted in their attempts to enter higher education institutions. The EU, he claimed, was putting free tuition at risk, before seamlessly moving on to attack the “scare stories” propagated by the pro-EU side.
This was a recurring theme, though it did seem somewhat risky for the Scottish Leave campaign to rail against scare tactics less than a week after the UK Leave campaign decided to release a list of rapists and murderers who came from the EU.
After that Harris introduced Sillars, who had clearly arrived with the intention of making some low-key, reasonable points against continued membership.
“They all look after themselves in that tiny elite,” he said. “It might not matter if they were competent. But I doubt if you look at the history of the world you will find a more incompetent group of people claiming to have political power anywhere.”
The EU is run by the most incompetent people in the history of the world. That seemed a big claim, given some of the incompetent things that have been done in the history of the world.
He continued: “My objection to the SNP policy [he is still an SNP member] is that if we remain in the United Kingdom which remains inside the European Union, then the next time we have a referendum on independence we will have the European Union on the Better Together side saying ‘you cannot get in’ and that would sow uncertainty and fear.”
This seemed a complicated point. Was Sillars arguing we should leave the EU so the next time we have a referendum on Scottish independence we can’t be scared by the terrible consequences of leaving the EU? Or that Britain should leave the EU so that Scotland being in Britain is less desirable?
There is some logic to that, at least internally, though it would suggest he should also support the UK getting rid of the pound in an effort to make the union less desirable. It’s like burning all the furniture in your house to avoid a burglary.
But, sadly, there was no time to find out more. The press conference ended and the press wandered out into the sunshine.
It felt good to Leave.
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