I’m not sure how much I’m looking forward to the UK government’s EU referendum promised for 2017. One referendum in a generation (© A Salmond) was enough for me. But anything can bring its own special interest and this one does too.
I might as well lay my cards on the table. I voted to stay in what was then the EEC in 1975 and I shall probably do the same for the EU in 2017, whatever amended terms of membership David Cameron is or isn’t able to negotiate. The EU is not without its problems but I believe on balance we’re better in than out. My reasons are complex and reasonably well, though not perfectly, informed by the evidence available. I would admit, anathema to some, that along with the rational arguments there’s a touch of sentiment and emotion in my standpoint.
EU membership is certainly the SNP’s policy and their Commons foreign affairs spokesman – yes, him again – has said he would work with George Osborne on a Yes campaign (The Scotsman reported this recently along with other interesting tit-bits about the former first minister). I made a similar although somewhat less high-profile statement last year when I told a slightly surprised nationalist correspondent that we’d probably find ourselves on the same side in an EU referendum. I think he’d worked up a mental picture of me with horns, an orange sash and a union jack tattooed on my forehead.
It will be an instructive exercise to compare and contrast the two referendum campaigns in the run-up to 2017. Doubtless many parallels and differences will emerge over time. Here are three we can be sure of already, with my predictions of the SNP’s reaction (if any) highlighted.
1. The business community will, by and large, come out in favour of staying in the EU, as they came out in favour of Scotland staying in the UK. The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) did that in the independence referendum campaign and have already done so for the EU referendum. The Yes campaign and the SNP condemned the CBI for interfering with the political process in 2014 (Scottish government agencies who were CBI members were made to resign from the organisation).
PREDICTION – neither the SNP nor the Scottish government will condemn the CBI for interfering in the political process of the EU referendum.
2. A lesser part of the business community in Scotland declared for independence through the notorious Business for Scotland lobby group. I say notorious because they pretended to be all sorts of things they weren’t – broad based, representative, independent of party politics, objective, and a think tank. The Yes campaign and the SNP used them as ‘proof’ that the business community wanted independence. In an eerie reflection of BfS, a lobby group called Business for Britain has already been formed that would be willing to advocate leaving the EU if renegotiation of the UK’s membership, in their terms, fails.
PREDICTION – if push comes to shove and BfB looks as if it is going to be effective, the SNP will condemn it as unrepresentative and pretending to be all sorts of things it isn’t.
3. In the independence referendum campaign decent people who wanted to maintain the union were smeared by association with other less savoury groups who wanted the same thing. This wasn’t done just by a lunatic fringe of nationalists but included senior SNP figures like the current first minister. She tweeted ‘Look who lines up for Yes. And who lines up for No’ with a graphic that associated mainstream Better Together campaigners with the likes of the BNP and the Scottish Defence League.
PREDICTION – the SNP will ignore any fringe or extremist groups who declare for staying in the EU but condemn by association with the likes of UKIP people who want to leave the EU. A supplementary prediction I had made a while ago that the SNP would work with the hated Tories if they declared for staying in a reformed EU has already come to pass with Alex Salmond’s comment about working with George Osborne.
Finally, at least for the moment, I reflect that my position on the EU is not dissimilar to my position on the UK. To recast what I said above
I might as well lay my cards on the table. I voted to stay in the UK in 2014 and I shall probably do the same in any future referendum, whatever is or isn’t on offer in any further devolution settlement. The UK is not without its problems but I believe on balance we’re better in than out. My reasons are complex and reasonably well, though not perfectly, informed by the evidence available. I would admit, anathema to some, that along with the rational arguments there’s a touch of sentiment and emotion in my standpoint.
In other words, I believe it’s worth staying in both of the two larger entities of which Scotland is currently a part. The SNP seems to think it’s worthwhile remaining in the EU while seeking to reform it. It’s a shame, and part of the inconsistency of nationalism, that they are not able to accept precisely the same view about the UK.
I’ll be keeping an eye on the EU referendum and further inconsistencies in the SNP’s position on it as they both evolve.