Leaders: The stakes are rising for Cameron and the country

POLITICAL tumult could prevent the Prime Minister following Alex Salmond's advice to step down in the event of an Out vote

Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: PA

Day by day, grim warnings are mounting over the prospect of a “Leave” vote in the EU referendum, a tactic with which Scottish voters will be familiar. But with negotiations incomplete and a date yet to be set for the vote, there is no firm determination on the shape of the battle, still less the political repercussions whichever way the vote goes. Prime Minister David Cameron has championed the progress of his negotiations with EU leaders thus far and sounds increasingly supportive of the UK remaining in the EU. But the stakes are slowly rising – and not least for his premiership.

What would be his position were there to be an Out vote? Could he remain Prime Minister? His position would look untenable. He sought a favourable re-negotiation of the UK’s membership terms to put to voters. And he is set to campaign for the UK to remain an EU member. A defiant vote to leave would gravely undermine his authority.

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Former SNP leader Alex Salmond, a passionate supporter of EU membership, is in no doubt that David Cameron should go in the wake of a defeat. He believes the negative scare stories – “Project Fear” – could backfire for the pro-EU camp and that he should resign. Mr Salmond should know. He fought the Scottish independence referendum and lost, resigning immediately as party leader and as First Minister. Mr Cameron, he argues, should follow his example.

He is right to point to the growing resort to scare stories about the “dire consequences” of a vote for Brexit, and the possibility that these could work to alienate voters. Despite this tactic in the Scottish referendum, support for independence rose during the campaign.

However, the similarities of the two outcomes, while close, are not quite parallel. A major consideration would be the likely political tumult at Westminster in the event of a ‘No’ vote. The Conservative Party is deeply divided. Could a successor be found who would be able to unite the party and the government?

Then there is the prospect of detailed negotiations on the terms of the UK’s departure. Business interests would want the Prime Minister to remain in office at least until some of the massive uncertainties are clarified.

However, Mr Cameron may not be able to count on traditional Tory appeals for unity after making disparaging remarks that were seen to belittle the views of many grass roots constituency members. And, having failed to secure a sufficiently robust re-negotiation to win the support of the country, a pall would immediately be cast on his credentials to lead the negotiations for exit.

It may well be that the prospect of political turmoil at home would encourage some waverers to avoid such an outcome and vote for the UK to remain in the EU.

However, if the Prime Minister’s re-negotiation package is further weakened by objections from EU member governments and the immigration issue flares up strongly in the coming weeks and months, these could take the final vote to the wire.

For Mr Cameron, and for the country, the stakes are rising.

Suffering brain fade? Learn Gaelic

There may be more to the beautiful language of Gaelic than we already know. For those fearing a loss of brain power or a gradual slippage in mental faculties – and let’s face it, who doesn’t at some time – then a remedy is at hand – both for brain worriers and for the Gaelic language.

According to Professor Antonella Sorace, founder of the Bilingualism Matters Centre at the University of Edinburgh, being multilingual can improve thinking and learning ability, and may reduce mental decline with age.

The positive effects of learning another language, she told the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC, can help keep minority languages such as Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish from extinction. Her study of retired people undergoing a one-week intensive course in Gaelic on the Isle of Skye found that, compared with other older individuals not doing languages courses, they showed improvements in tests of attention.

Now, Prof Sorace herself must be stupendously bright. She speaks Italian, English and French, and has a working understanding of Spanish and Sardinian. She puts the stimulus of the course on Skye down to effort and novelty of the task. And if policymakers could be encouraged to retain languages such as Gaelic, Cornish or Welsh it could have a beneficial impact on health, she argues.

Whether Ms Sorace’s linguistic skills extends to Borders dialect or “Parliamo Glasgow” is unclear. But this doesn’t detract from her basic thesis – that learning other languages keeps us mentally active. And if you can come to master all the different variants of spoken Scots, the darkest corners of your brain will be positively glowing.