Leaders: We need proper EU debate not slanging match

The EU referendum campaigners needs to heed the lessons of the independence referendum. Picture: Neil Hanna
The EU referendum campaigners needs to heed the lessons of the independence referendum. Picture: Neil Hanna
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AS THE In campaign lines up against the two Out groups, all sides should heed the lessons of last year’s independence referendum

This week the referendum campaign over the UK’s membership of the European Union gains traction with the launch of the “in” campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe headed by Lord Stuart Rose, former chief executive of Marks & Spencer.

Two separate campaigns urging an EU exit have already entered the field. Vote Leave, a cross-party group of MPs and peers including Ukip’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, and Leave.EU, an umbrella group of anti-EU campaigners founded by Ukip donor Arron Banks. Both have been endorsed by Ukip leader Nigel Farage, but quite why two organisations have stepped forward to put the case for a UK exit is unclear. A merger is likely at some stage. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on Prime Minister David Cameron to hold an early poll.

Whenever the referendum date is set, and whoever speaks for the campaign for an exit, it is vital that it does not degenerate into a tired and cliché-ridden battle between all-too-familiar faces. The EU has been a divisive issue in UK politics for more than 40 years. This division has become increasingly marked. And while it is held that Scottish voters are more sympathetically disposed to EU membership, the difference in attitudes is more narrow than generally assumed.

The insistence by the SNP that a vote across the rest of the UK to leave, if Scots vote to remain in the EU, would provide the rationale for a second referendum not only further complicates matters but is also likely to make the campaign even more divisive than it is already likely to prove.

What voters need in the course of the campaign are straight and informative answers on a range of important questions. For this is by no means a vote that should rest on a single issue such as border control, or membership costs, or business regulation, or the effect on trade and jobs, important though these questions are. It is also about our views on the democratic nature of the EU and its direction of travel to “ever closer union”. It is also about Britain’s standing in the world and whether our influence would be strengthened or weakened by leaving.

These are huge questions that lie behind a calculation of self-interest. And for that reason it is vital that the campaign is fought on the basis of education and information. The lesson from the Scottish referendum is to treat voters like adults.

Slanging matches between the different sides will illuminate nothing. Scots have had more than enough of that. As for the idea that celebrities and long-established politicians will change our minds, it is risible to approach the EU referendum in this way. There will always be voters on either side who will be so swayed. But that is all the more reason why we need the respective campaigns to deal in facts, grown-up arguments and strong opinions from a range of people, not just the same old tired faces.

Rational argument and intelligence does not preclude an engaging campaign.

Stubborn symbol of a better future

How ironic that two of Glasgow’s Red Road tower blocks failed to tumble in the manner prescribed yesterday. For, however unsuitable and unpopular they became – and their demolition was long overdue – they were for decades an iconic symbol of the city’s desire for social improvement and to embrace the new.

High-rise living was no passing architect’s whim. It was an idea that swept many European cities. It offered immediate improvement in the living conditions of thousands of the city’s residents, an economic use of land, cost-effective construction and, to the social dreamers, the prospect of communities in the sky.

“Sustainability” is now the a la mode word applied to modern building development proposals and a box that planners are obliged to tick.

But from the start, the Red Road flats, for all their claims to modernity and concrete solidity, were not sustainable at all by modern definition. What they offered was an alluring but defective vision. They lacked many of the features that make and sustain a community – shops, community space, leisure activities and local bars and restaurants.

While it may have suited some residents, there were others who struggled to conform to the planners’ dreams.

Lifts often broke down and staircases became unpleasant and intimidating places. Over time, the flats fell empty and more tenants wanted to be rehoused – in less concentrated forms of housing and in areas that enabled the human spirit to cope.

The flats stood for the determination of a city to shake off its past and improve.

Perhaps it was fitting that some resisted demolition at the end. But our judgment should not be lost in clouds of selective sentiment and nostalgia.

The final round of demolition yesterday was, as much as their original construction, a vivid symbol of a need, once more, to shake off the past and improve.