THE arguments over whether the United Kingdom should vote to stay within the European Union will, by and large, be about the economic benefits or otherwise of the relationship.
But behind that debate, we expect a great deal of insinuation about other matters. Many of those in the campaign to leave the EU have already used immigration and the fear or terrorism to score cheap political points, and there is no reason to suppose such tactics will cease as the referendum campaign gathers pace.
The recent Islamist attacks in Paris surely enhance the case for the closest possible co- operation with our European neighbours. The murders in Paris could just as easily have been carried out in London or Edinburgh and, given the terror threats the West faces, clear and frequent communication between European nations is very much to be desired.
The argument for a united Europe may seem stronger than ever but we can expect some of those who want out of the EU to make capital over refugees.
The suggestion that some Islamist terrorists may have entered Europe posing as asylum seekers is a useful weapon for those who see demonising “the other” as a way of boosting support for an out vote. It would be naive not to expect the debate to get dirty and underhand, and for participants to exploit people’s basest fears. Europe is undergoing change right now. The impact of the Paris attacks is already being felt – there are moves to close borders, making travel less straightforward for all. Yet as we erect bureaucratic barriers, we cannot let them drive European neighbours apart at this crucial time.
Whether the UK will vote to stay in or to leave Europe is not at all clear, right now. Polls suggest a small majority in favour of remaining part of the union, but that pro-Europe case is vulnerable to attack. The UK has long had a difficult relationship with Europe. We’ve complained about “barmy” regulations surrounding the contents of sausages, and rolled our eyes at the actions of Brussels bureaucrats. We’ve griped about subsidies and red tape. And we’ve dismissed as passengers on a lavish gravy train the politicians we send to the European Parliament. We are not, it must be said, in the habit of talking about the positive impact of EU membership.
In the months ahead, that rarely-heard case will collide with Brexit campaigners, many of whom have been waiting for four decades to end what they consider to be the folly of our EU membership. There is, of course, a great positive message to be made about the EU, and not just regarding the value of the closest possible relationship with trading partners.
Through membership of the EU, the UK has played its part in helping to create a more stable, democratic Europe. We believe that 40 years of shared endeavour across Europe has built relationships we should not recklessly discard.
The greatest threat to our security in Europe today is from Islamist terrorism. Groups such as Isis will continue to strike on European soil. We have felt the impact of such terrorism in the UK, with attacks in London and Glasgow, and should be prepared for further outrages.
With this terrible inevitability in mind, we should not consider breaking our bond with mainland Europe. Together, since the Second World War, European nations have achieved a great deal working together, and never was unity more desperately needed than now, in the face of terrorist provocation.
It has never been more important for intelligence agencies and governments across the continent to work closely together.
The EU referendum campaign promises to be hard fought, and we can see an opportunity for those in favour of leaving to use concerns about immigration to help their cause. We hope any such tactic fails. Europe must remain united.
Proposal for tax on sugar has merit
Dementia is the cruellest of illnesses, robbing family of loved ones even in life. An ever-ageing population means more Scots are living on into the years when their minds begin to fail. And experts warn that a generation of Scots is making lifestyle choices that will greatly increase their chances of falling victim to dementia in later life.
But while this is prediction is bleak, the expertise behind it also points us to a way of decreasing the risk of developing the condition.
Professor Craig Ritchie, director of the newly launched Centre for Dementia Prevention at Edinburgh University, will deliver a lecture this week in which he will argue that attention, in the case of dementia, should be given to prevention rather than simply seeking a cure.
The high consumption of sugar among younger Scots could lead, in 20 years, to a spike in the number of instances of the illness. Professor Ritchie will argue that while much will be achieved through drug regimens for sufferers, the majority of progress will be made through public health policy.
Given dementia’s links to diabetes, part of the professor’s solution is to propose a tax on sugar.
This suggestion has merit.
Scotland’s appalling health record is well known and Scottish Governments past and present have shown willingness to take big steps in attempting to improve matters. The ban on smoking in public and minimum pricing on alcohol are significant pieces of legislation that stand to have a positive impact.
Why, then, shouldn’t consideration be given to similarly bold measures when it comes to reducing sugar consumption?
Rising obesity levels put additional pressure on the NHS. Anything that can help turn that particular tide must be worth discussing.
And it is not just dementia that might be prevented by better diets among Scots. Obesity is linked to heart disease, strokes and cancers.
Dementia sufferers and their families live under huge stress. Without a cure, the condition worsens and can be deeply traumatic, especially for those closest to sufferers.
So let’s hope the Scottish Government listens to Professor Ritchie. If the risks of dementia can be slashed, the message must be spread far and wide.