Brian Wilson: Boot’s on other foot as fear shifts

Enoch Powell, left, at a 1975 conference to campaign against UK entry into the common market. Picture: Getty
Enoch Powell, left, at a 1975 conference to campaign against UK entry into the common market. Picture: Getty
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Using negativity is increasingly a tactic of Yes campaign amid warnings of being locked out of Europe, writes Brian Wilson

IN THE early days of the referendum marathon, the Nationalists went to great lengths to pin the charge of negativity on those of us who do not want to break up the United Kingdom.

From my own perspective, I can think of nothing more negative than to divide a small island into separate states in the second decade of the 21st century. But that only goes to confirm the pretty obvious maxim that one person’s positive is another’s negative.

Every statistic which they found unhelpful, every warning from concerned businesses about potential job losses, every academic study, however learned, was lumped into the same charge sheet of a grand conspiracy to deceive the lieges by means of fear and intimidation.

It was always nonsense, but it had a certain short-term marketability. Defending a status quo inevitably involves pointing out the deficiencies of what is on offer as an alternative. But the idea that unproven assertion is positive while evidence-based warnings of risk are negative is just plain silly.

When jobs, pensions and security are involved, the stakes are too high to be reduced to a word game of “positives and negatives”. Ultimately, people are bound to look for the highest available degree of certainty, particularly as it affects their own prospects, whatever taunts are levelled.

We are now at that stage.

Nonetheless, there is sweet irony in observing the latest tactics of the Nationalist campaign – and of Alex Salmond in particular. Fear is now firmly on the other foot and the “positive” campaign has been reduced to a series of scare stories in which rejecting independence will visit terrible consequences upon Scotland.

The Barnett Formula is to disappear, the National Health Service is to crumble and the United Kingdom is to walk out of the European Union. Woe, woe, woe! The only way to avoid these disasters is to vote for independence. Project Fee Fi Fo Fum smells the blood of English perfidy and reaction from which we must, with one leap, be free.

Once again, it is easy to spit peas through the arguments – though it is a pleasing indication of desperation that they are even being attempted. For example, Salmond’s claim that privatisation within the NHS in England will lead to budget cuts in Scotland under the Barnett Formula is childish nonsense.

The Scottish Government is itself no stranger to placing contracts with private companies which were once firmly public sector. The cost of these contracts comes from the public sector budget in exactly the same way as money paid to private contractors in the NHS, wherever it arises, comes out of the budget rather than leading to its reduction.

Accordingly, the real issue is not budgets being cut but how money should best be used to deliver patient care. In that respect, Scotland is entirely free to make its own decisions and, as the recent trail of bad news stories has confirmed, there is plenty for the Scottish Government to focus on without spreading scare stories about what is happening elsewhere.

They might even, in humility, consider the possibility that being different is not necessarily being better. An impressive 93 per cent of our leading medical academics have said that medical research in Scotland would suffer from independence while patients as distinguished as Sam Galbraith have pointed out, from personal experience, why medical 
co-operation within the UK is a lot more productive than the ostentatious driving of wedges.

Salmond’s other big scare story of the week was about the possibility of the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union and, if we have by then voted “No”, taking a reluctant Scotland with it. His alternative scenario, I suppose, is that what’s left of the UK would be outside the EU while Scotland would be inside.

I can actually think of no less favourable outcome for Scotland than the one which the leader of the Scottish Nationalists is using as an incitement for supporting independence. Scotland does twice as much trade with the rest of the UK as with the rest of the world put together. How on earth could it be in our interests to be both outside the UK and inside the EU with the UK outside? Years of economic dislocation would follow if this fantasy were fulfilled.

In truth, it is unlikely that the UK will vote to leave the EU – and anyone who doubts this should look back to the referendum of 1975 which confirmed our membership of the Common Market. The headline figures of opposition at that time were far higher than now. The arguments were also more compelling – including loyalty to the Commonwealth. But when nip came to tuck, the arguments about jobs and investment blew all that away – a parallel here with the current Scottish campaign.

I have no doubt the same thing will happen again if there is an EU referendum. There will be much huffing, puffing and renegotiation on some issues of sovereignty – and why not? Enough will be secured for an acceptable case to be placed before the UK electorate in 2017, if a referendum happens. Life will go on.

For those who believe it is in Scotland’s interests to remain in the EU, the obvious course of action is to stay within the UK in order to help secure that outcome. The idea that Scotland would waltz into the EU while the UK (on which our claim of entitlement to membership would rest) was in the process of waltzing out is another fantasy which is sustained by neither evidence nor reason.

The much more pertinent issue is the one on which Mr Salmond and his colleagues have repeatedly sought to mislead us – Scotland’s automatic right to membership of the EU. It will be recalled, among other calumnies, that the previous President of the European Commission, Barroso, was accused by Salmond of only opposing us because he was currying favour for the post of Nato general secretary.

That now seems like a very old and silly smear but it is the level at which this campaign of denial has been conducted. Let it be noted that the new man, Juncker, has stated – quite separately from his comments about a five-year freeze on EU enlargement – that his position on Scottish membership is exactly the same as that of his predecessor. And Luxembourg doesn’t even have a separatist movement.

Scare stories about what might happen if we stay in the UK are likely to excite only the gullible. The questions about what will happen if we separate remain much more compelling – and totally unanswered.