Monday, 12 October 2015

Arrogance and complacency could cost the pro-EU side the vote

Us Scots know quite a bit about how to Hibs a referendum. Last year, the Better Together campaign turned a vote which it was literally impossible for them to lose into a nailbitingly-tight result which leaves them staring long-term defeat in the face. 

Indeed, there were even news reports a couple of weeks back that the Remain [in the EU] campaign had sought a meeting with the laughable Blair McDougall, head of Better Together, and the brainbox behind Scottish Labour's catastrophic election campaign this year in which they lost all but one seat, about how not to fight a referendum.

They don't seem to have listened.

Today's launch was a disaster. It actually echoed the launch of the Yes Scotland campaign, which gave the impression of being a self-satisfied back-patting session for the political, middle, and chattering classes. 

The first problem with the campaign is the name. Britain Stronger in Europe. It reads like the front page of a Conservative manifesto from the mid-1970s. But what they've failed to take into account is that there's more than 1,6m people in Scotland for whom a stronger Britain would not be a positive. There are, similarly, more than a quarter million people in the north of Ireland who would not be positively inclined to a campaign which is marking itself out as stolidly, conservatively British. 

In Scotland, the No campaign had a thirty-point lead that it could afford to (and almost did) throw away. The Remain campaign - BSE - doesn't have that. There are two million people who have been partially alienated from the get-go to a campaign which they would be naturally inclined to support. Now, I'm not saying that this is going to turn a Europhililc Scottish Green into a No, or make a Sinn Féin voter who attends IRA commemorations into a Union Jack-waving British nationalist. But in a tight finish, BSE might come to regret alienating what are its natural supporters with its very name. 

In an attempt to broaden its appeal, it is going to alienate even more people. A campaign led by a Tory peer couldn't have been better designed to alienate the millions of people who voted Yes in 2015, or those who were turned on to politics by Jeremy Corbyn's campaign. It epitomises the "sit down, shut up, do as you're told" attitude of Westminster politics that has repulsed people in their hundreds of thousands. Sticking a Blue Peter presenter on stage won't change that - it just comes across as patronising, in addition to patrician. Is "you're young, so you can't possibly understand these awfully important, grown-up debates, so here's a children's TV presenter to talk down to you" the new "shut up, eat your cornflakes, and vote No"?

So, it starts off arrogant, complacent, and patronising. It's alienated swathes of voters. It retains a lead, but not one remotely as large as Better Together started with. It is already, truth be told, in difficulty. 

I am pro-European. And I am pro-Europe. But my inclination at the moment is not to vote to remain inside the European Union, for the following reasons:

1. The British are particularly poor Europeans. They refuse to join in with things, undermining everything that the EU actually stands for. Aloof and apart, they stood away from the single currency, and refused to join in with Schengen. These two things are sort of, like, the point of the EU. They clearly don't want to play a full part in the Union, and would be happier out of it rather than inside, screeching, wailing and sobbing like "Kez" Dugdale when someone's rude to her. Britain removed to the naughty step would be better for her, and better for Europe (and in the longer term, it completely eliminates one of the Three Pillars of British Unionism). 

2. Intervention from the EU in internal political affairs of member states worries me. The previous president, JM Barroso, lost the run of himself, and believed it was his place to interfere in the Scottish referendum last year. It was none of his business to interfere - and his threats to the Scottish people (on the instructions of the British government with the promise of supporting him as Secretary-General of Nato) will not readily be forgotten. 

3. Greece's treatment at the hands of the European Union was a democratic outrage on the part of Germany. One might have thought they'd got out of the habit of punishing a weaker member of a group pour encourager les autres. Sadly, old habits die hard. 

4. Following on from 3., the unaccountability, and thus in my view the illegitimacy of the European Commission. Similarly to the House of Lords, it is a stain on democracy. The Commission shouldn't be accountable only to itself, it must be accountable to the people of Europe. If the Commissioners were appointed through the European Parliament, accountable to them, and removable by them, would they have been so intransigent toward Greece? The absence of any threat of being voted out leads to arrogance and, inevitably, corruption.

5. Again following from 3., a Europe of peoples is a great and noble idea. I would vote for a pan-European state like a shot. But this unaccountability of those who govern Europe puts me off. A Europe of peoples, united as Europeans, protecting human rights and promoting the brotherhood of workers is what we need. Instead, what we have is a Europe of conservatism. Of bankers, of spivs, of speculators. A Europe which has no hesitation in bullying her people - as it did to Ireland - or even mounting coups d'etat against her democratic governments, as in Italy and Greece. 

Change Europe, from one of the bankers to one of the workers, and I'll vote for unity every day of every week of every year for the rest of my life. But the only renegotiation the British are interested in is one which throws out the Social Chapter, to continue to grind away at workers' rights.

And for that reason, I can't see myself voting In.


  1. Ideal situation if E +W +NI vote to leave and Scotland votes to stay in. Stand by for shuttle diplomacy beteen Bruxelles and Edinburgh.