‘Compare and contrast … ’ – the Scottish and EU referenda: Round 2

In my first notes the other day on the EU referendum and its similarities (or not) with Scotland’s independence/separation referendum I threatened to return to the subject.

I didn’t think I’d be back so soon but the supercilious tones of John Redwood on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning have driven me to my keyboard again. I don’t think there’s anyone in Scottish politics who combines the effect of Redwood’s superior social class with the superior intellectual sneer. On a good day, Stewart Hosie comes close on the intellectual side but clearly doesn’t cut it socially.

Redwood on the EU referendum brought two more comparisons and contrasts with Scotland’s own referendum to mind.

First, the BBC discussion, which included a representative of the pro-EU European  Movement, was essentially about the franchise for the referendum. But whatever question Redwood was asked he turned to one claim – that the UK, liberated from the strictures of the EU, would be able to continue trading freely with Europe while also able to reach its own free trade agreements with other nations and trading blocs.

I immediately thought of the Scottish Government’s claims about Scotland once it had left the United Kingdom.

  • Scotland would be important economically to the UK
  • We would continue to trade freely with the UK as we had before
  • The UK government would be keen to resolve any outstanding issues between the two states
  • In particular, the UK would make major concessions essential to the stability of the Scottish economy
  • Scotland’s new international arrangements (EU membership – Redwood’s equivalent would be free trade with non-EU entities) would be quick and easy to conclude.

Take this list, write in UK where I have Scotland and EU where I have UK and you already have the essence of what John Redwood was claiming this morning about the UK after it left the EU. In both cases the claims are no more than assertions that need forensic examination. In Scotland’s case we know that the economic case for independence failed. I suspect it will fail too for what its proponents are calling ‘Brexit.’ The skill of the politician (Redwood now, Salmond et al previously) is to hammer the single message continually, especially in contexts where it won’t be challenged, and to denounce all attempts to argue the contrary case. That happened in Scotland: I suspect it will happen in the EU referendum campaign.

The second, very different, comparison today’s exchange brought to mind was the question of the franchise. The representative of the European Movement was arguing for three groups to be included:

  1. 16-18 year olds
  2. EU citizens resident in the UK entitled to vote in local elections
  3. UK citizens who had been resident abroad for a long period (it wasn’t clear to me if she was referring to residence elsewhere in the EU or anywhere abroad).

Her case in relation to the first two categories was that it had worked well in the Scottish referendum so why not this next time. Redwood was against all three categories being included. Of course both protagonists were arguing for what they thought would bring their side advantage, as they did in 2014. I’m fairly agnostic on each of these categories: I can see the advantages and disadvantages of including or excluding each. Here I just note the particularly Scottish irony of the Scottish government wanting 16-18 year olds to vote when they are not regarded as adults in law and have a ‘named person’ under a controversial provision of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

I know there are readers who are completely at one with me on the main theme of this blog, keeping the UK together, but who disagree with me on EU membership. For me, the union is a more existential question than the EU but in any event let’s not fall out over our differences on Europe. My main focus, as always, is on arguing against separatists in Scotland who want to break up my country. I suspect the behaviour of the SNP in relation to the EU referendum over the next year or two will give me plenty of opportunity to do that.

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