Bill Jamieson: The Brexit debate is over? Aye right

Former prime minister Gordon Brown speaks during a 'Britain: Leading, Not Leaving - the case for remaining in the European Union' event. Picture: PA
Former prime minister Gordon Brown speaks during a 'Britain: Leading, Not Leaving - the case for remaining in the European Union' event. Picture: PA
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The natural scepticism of Scots seems to have vanished ahead of the EU referendum, writes Bill Jamieson

Isn’t it about time the Brexit campaign threw in the towel? The warnings are colossal, the risks overwhelming and the battle as good as lost. Why fight on?

A Survation poll this week puts support for remaining in the European Union among Scottish voters at 76 per cent. But two aspects about this pro-EU Scottish poll reading puzzles me.

The first is how a country, stirred by arguments just two years ago for greater democratic accountability and an assertion of our sovereignty and independence, could be so seemingly indifferent over increasing control from Brussels.

After a fiery debate in 2014 with an unprecedented level of public engagement, we were brought to the brink of an independence vote. Yet today the polls suggest our continued EU membership is barely worth debating.

Now, it could be that we are a mercantilist country at heart, viewing the greater regulatory reach of Brussels as a fair price to pay for all those EU subsidies we receive. “Bought and sold for Brussels gold” may be a fair reflection of this view.

The second troubling feature is an evident lack of questioning over all the dire warnings that have rained down from the business panjandrums and the political elite. Whatever has happened to our Scottish scepticism – that irksome but healthy tendency not to rush to embrace the advice of the great and good until we have fully explored the bases of their assertions and the consequences to which they will lead (and even then, find ourselves none too sure)? Where is that natural Scottish questioning, and the popular colloquial put-down: “Aye, right”?

I thought I’d heard all that Project Fear Mark Two could fire into the Brexit trenches. But the latest fusillades must surely have killed the argument.

It’s not that leaving the EU, according to Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia this week, could drive up shop prices, mortgages, credit card bills and damage Scotland’s financial sector, nor that the economic slowdown has been blamed on “referendum uncertainty”.

And it’s not even that the august Scottish Council for Development & Industry (SCDI) has thrown its full weight behind “Vote Remain”, saying it will support the UK staying in Europe. Most of its members, says chief executive Ross Martin, support membership but “a small number of members did not hold that view”. I’m only surprised that the “small number” registered at all with the SCDI.

No, scary though all of these are, what must surely be the knock-out blow was the warning from David Cameron that peace in Europe could be at risk if Britain votes to leave.

European peace threatened? That’s not just a big gun blast from Project Fear, it’s the thermonuclear strike. If Brexit is such a threat to European peace, why ever did the Prime Minister risk calling a referendum and seeing Europe being plunged into another continent-wide Armageddon just to pacify a few Tory backbenchers and Ukip’s Nigel Farage?

All this, let’s remember, comes on top of the dire warnings from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the UK Treasury, the Bank of England, the CBI, the National Institute for Economic & Social Research, Goldman Sachs and US president Barack Obama.

The Brexit battle must surely be lost but for one even scarier outcome – what the future is likely to hold if we vote Remain.

The warnings over Vote Leave are surely all the more compelling when we reflect for a moment on the wise counsel we have enjoyed from those urging us to stay.

Is not the eurozone a beacon of economic success, with high growth and modest unemployment? Would we not have been better off had we only listened to the advice of Ken Clarke, Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown, Peter Mandelson and the mighty barons of the CBI and joined the euro single currency when that golden door of opportunity was held open for us?

When it comes to listening to our betters on world affairs, were we not prudently advised by America on Afghanistan and Iraq? Should we not, after all, have bombed Syria? Was the EU so wrong to press and cajole Ukraine into closer alignment?

Of course we are more secure when we are integrated in Europe. What really did we gain from standing alone, as we did against Napoleon, the Hapsburgs, the Kaiser and Hitler? What a laughable notion that our very independence continually saved us – and indeed Europe.

As for the economy and our well-being, did not those true and unfailing lodestars of economic stability and financial rectitude – the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD, et al – warn so clearly of the oncoming ­global financial crisis and subsequent recession?

And what reason have we to doubt the strength and unity of purpose within the EU in tackling common problems, given its unified and successful approach to immigration policy and border control?

Why shouldn’t all this sage advice be accepted without a tiresome examination of the record? Indeed, is there not altogether too much demagogic grumbling and back seat driving from voters who know so little but have the effrontery to think their opinions might matter?

Now, I’m sure David Cameron has heard those earnest pleas to run a more upbeat and positive campaign: that he needs to stress the benefits of EU integration instead of scaring us out of our wits.

It’s not enough, surely, that the UK remains a sullen, reluctant member of the EU. We certainly can’t carry on as we have been – negative foot-dragging just won’t cut it as a diplomatic strategy. What will be urged upon us is not negative compliance but positive collaboration.

Yes, collaboration, and all the benefits it will bring with common regulation, a common defence and security policy, shared goals on integration – and that seat at the top table, voting the same way with all the others.

Whoever thought it was a good idea to have greater devolution and for people in their own nations and regions to decide their preferences? History is replete with examples of countries that have happily reconciled to growing external stewardship of their affairs, economic partnership and collaboration.

Yes, there are some bad examples – France under Marshall Petain and Hungary under the Soviet Union, with those unfortunate events of October 1956.

These regrettable extremes have given positive collaboration a bad name. We need to look beyond. After a Remain vote on 23 June, the past will be behind us. The critics at home will be silenced. And the EU will be emboldened by our confirmation that it is on the right road and can press ahead with greater integration.

Once 23 June is behind us, sovereignty will be a spent concept. Positive ­collaboration is the wave of the future. 
You don’t have to love the EU. But we can put on a smile, forget our differences and rub along. A brave new future beckons, if only we collaborate with Europe and ease up on outworn notions of democratic accountability. What really will we be left for us to fear?