The EU Referendum: England Decides

Making Plans For NigelFrom what I have seen the EU referendum has not caught the Scottish imagination in the same way that the 2014 independence referendum did. Yes, there’s been debate online, on television and on radio, and there news coverage aplenty, but the street activity just hasn’t been there. I kind of expected to see it ramp up in the final weeks, to see people out on the streets making the case to Leave or Remain, but I’m just not seeing it. In Edinburgh I have seen the Scottish Socialists occupy their usual spot; on the Royal Mile I’ve seen referendum activity once. Two years ago you wouldn’t have had to go far to find someone from the Yes or No camp trying to sell their argument to you. This appears to be a far cry from what is happening in England, where news coverage seems to show a considerable amount of engagement. From the big hitters of government pressing the flesh, to faded rock stars on flotillas on the Thames, there has been enough to keep everyone busy. But the difference in campaign styles in Scotland and in England has shown that there is no common Leave/Remain narrative. There are two campaigns running parallel to each other and what they reveal is striking.

In Scotland the argument that we are being “swamped” with immigrants has not become one of the main topics, simply due to the fact that immigration levels in Scotland aren’t on par with those in the south of England. During the independence referendum the likes of Alistair Darling liked to give the impression that Scottish Nationalism was not a civic one but a “blood and soil” nationalism. In this he was likening it to the arguments which were used to bring the Nazi Party to power in Germany in the 1930’s; a dislike of immigrants, the fear that the Jews were taking the jobs and homes of good German people, that their race was somehow being diminished, underpinned by a belief that were superior to foreigners. This was a charge which never stuck, given the make up of the Yes movement and the fact it embraced so many nationalities and cultures. But it is a charge that can be leveled at the Leave camp, and is exemplified with the latest ill-timed UKIP poster campaign which is straight out of the Joseph Goebbels bumper book of propaganda, showing an endless line of refugees heading towards us with the caption “Breaking Point” writ large. Only last week one member of the Question Time audience gave her reasons for leaving, to some applause: “It’s about our English culture… we are being invaded… we are being diluted…”. Blood and soil encapsulated. Reading discussions in newspapers or online you’ll find those arguments there, but they are way below such things as the economy, sovereignty and the likelihood of a Brexit triggering a second Scottish referendum. The latter topic is used persistently to quell other discussion with it being generally accepted that a strong Remain vote in Scotland will only highlight the difference in Scottish and English thinking. Even if England votes Remain, which is now looking less likely, it is likely that there will be a significant difference between the Scottish and English vote, confirming that Scotland is not only a different beast, but one that is becoming more different by the day.

This is by and large an English referendum to deal with problems in England, for which there was no other mechanism to deal with them. As such we are bit players, invited by default but it’s clear that it’s not our fight. This is something for England to decide.

The scenario which most excites many in the Independence camp is where Scotland votes Remain while England votes Leave. It’s not unthinkable. Indeed I’d be inclined to think that such is the engagement in England that the level of Leave victory could dwarf the entire Scottish vote. If this happens the Scottish campaign will have been both mute and moot. The other contentious outcome is where the gap is smaller and the Scottish vote is enough to claw a Remain win. In this case it is felt that a furious English electorate will cast us off as punishment so that they can pursue their own agenda.

As we approach the end of this campaign we can be certain of a few things. It has been conducted at a level way below that of Indyref, where the worst things thrown were insults and an egg. What is certain is that EUref, like Indyref is not the end of the argument but the beginning. English nationalism has been awakened and will not simply crawl off if it is beaten, and should it win we are in for an interesting time.


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