As I See It
Scots may have a hand in saving Cameron’s skin
It has been the most vicious, acrimonious, misleading, divisive and ultimately tragic of political campaigns. Thursday’s vote on whether Britain remains a member of the EU has been fought on a bedrock of falsehoods, scare tactics and downright lies. And against this background we will determine the country’s future.
Those on both sides of the debate have been guilty of unforgiveable mischief that, at times, has insulted the electorate. Considering the importance of the issue at stake, this is not just a lost opportunity, it is a dangerous game in which the winner takes all, but not necessarily for the right reasons.
The public has never been particularly well-informed about the EU; how it works, what good it does. Critics have filled this knowledge vaccuum with myth and rumour. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it will be based on a high level of ignorance.
Following Labour MP Jo Cox’s death we can at least expect a more sombre tone in the remaining days. The terrible incident last Thursday will potentially influence some voters horrified by the level of animosity and hatred the campaign has generated.
Polls have shown large swings one way or the other and one this weekend suggests the attack on the MP has swung voters against the Leave campaign, A note of caution, however, even from the polling company’s chairman: the sample is small and, in any case, pollsters have a habit of getting it wrong.
A particularly intriguing feature is the role that Scotland is likely to play in the outcome. There is a delicious irony in the fact that a victory for Remain – and David Cameron – would be largely down to support for the EU north of the border which is higher than in England.
Some say this is because immigration – a key factor in England – is less of an issue for Scotland. Only 4% of the Scottish population is from ethnic groups, against 14% south of the border.
But a lack of immigrants is not necessarily an indicator of a more lenient attitude towards them. As I was explaining in a discussion on the topic last week, my experience of living in Leicester (high level of immigrants) and York (low level) was that the greater hostility was expressed by those in the latter.
If immigration is not at the heart of Scotland’s support for the EU, then what is?
“Scotland’s” view is currently a reflection of the SNP’s view, such is the party’s dominance in Scottish politics. And that makes it impossible to get away from the Scottish independence debate.
The SNP’s allegiance to the EU is one of the great puzzles of British politics: that a party wanting independence from an elected parliament in Westminster, in order to control its own affairs, is happy to remain tied to an unelected bureaucracy in Brussels which currently dictates policy on everything from the environment and competition to banking regulation and consumer law.
A further puzzle is that voting to leave the EU would likely prompt calls for a second Scottish independence referendum. No one should be surprised therefore if some SNP supporters desert their leader’s call by voting for Britain to get out.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon explains the pro-EU position of her party as a desire to be a self-governing country in a family of nations. That’s a reasonable argument. But this “family” is not without its in-built hostilities. The party has long objected to London Rule (as seen in graffiti) while its attitude to anywhere across the Channel is generally benign.
Brussels? Paris? Rome? Frankfurt? Let’s be honest, for most Scots these are either glamorous tourist spots, or largely harmless financial and political centres. What’s more, they don’t have Eton, or Farage, or Tories or other symbols of Eng-erland.
So, what is it that Scots really fear from a Leave vote? Is it that the pound and stock market will be trashed and trade agreements left in tatters? That assumes they believe the ‘fear’ tactics of the Remain camp, and Scots became cynical about a similar strategy in 2014. Or is it that there may be resignations in Downing Street and a split in the Tory party? Well, that would be seen as a good thing by SNP supporters.
At risk of being accused of belittling public opinion some may vote Remain simply by following the mantra wheeled out in big football tournaments: “We’ll support anyone, as long as it’s not the English.”
As it happens, the EU poll is taking place at the same time as Euro 2016 when national pride is expressed in many ways, from celebrations on the pitch to fist-fights on the streets of France.
And behold, England fans have been caught up in unseemly violence in Marseille and Lille, prompting indignant Scots to declare: “Nothing to do with us, monsieur.”
The Scots may be absent from Euro 2016 but they clearly see themselves as very much part of the European project.
Voting Leave would trigger their desire for a second attempt at independence, yet polls suggest they will vote Remain.
This will delay their intended goal, but will keep intact the ultimate dream of Scotland becoming a self-ruling country in a united Europe.
What they will make of rescuing David Cameron’s career in the process is another matter.