Before finally deciding to campaign for Brexit, Boris Johnson prepared two articles for his regular Telegraph column. The first explained why he was choosing to vote Leave the other why he was choosing to vote for Remain. Many people would see this as a sign that his eventual decision was calculating and based on self-interest. I would hope that most of us make decisions by means of calculating the pros and cons and I would suggest that few indeed are the people that do not at least take into account self-interest when they decide to do anything. Moreover, as events showed the Theresa May route of backing Remain while not doing so enthusiastically was the path more likely to lead to the big prize. The important point however, is that on certain issues people are genuinely torn. I know I was. It is these people who decide elections.
The decision in the EU referendum was difficult because of our inability to see into the future. Many British people perhaps didn’t much like the EU, but they could see that there were risks involved in leaving. Voting to stay meant that things would go on more or less the same in the near future. If you thought life wasn’t so bad this had its attractions. What if all the horrible things the Remain campaign predicted turned out to be true? After a few months it is becoming clearer that the sky will not fall in. Of course, we haven’t left yet, but the predictions made by Remain were that the UK would immediately suffer from choosing to leave the EU. The reverse has been the case.
There is an important lesson here for Pro UK people. I do not agree with some Scottish commentators that it shows a lack of understanding of the Scottish people for English Tories to suggest that Theresa May should say “No” to a second independence referendum. I think these commentators misunderstand the risk of saying go ahead. Let Nicola Sturgeon have a tantrum. Let the Scottish Nationalists go on demonstrations. Let Scottish opinion be inflamed. So what? Like a toddler on the floor of a supermarket screaming its head off such actions have nowhere to go. If we hold firm, we can block the SNP indefinitely. If we don’t, we might lose our country for ever. Every single European country, plus each member of the Security Council would agree that Theresa May was within her rights to say “No Nicola, you have had your referendum and you will have to wait some years to have another.”
British Prime Ministers blocked the desire for an EU referendum for years even though they knew there was huge support for one. George Osborne thought David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum was foolish. Must we really live in a world where we are continually held to ransom by Nicola Sturgeon? If Theresa May has the legal right to say “No” then let her say “No”. The Scottish Parliament does not have control over constitutional matters and therefore cannot have a mandate over such issues. There is nothing remotely undemocratic about saying this is an issue for us not you. This is an issue that was settled decisively only a short time ago. Demonstrate and fume all you like.
But until and unless we hear authoritatively that there is not going to be a second independence referendum any time soon we must prepare as if there will be. Many Pro UK people are foolishly optimistic. It’s almost as if they are singing “We’re going to hang out the washing on the Siegfried Line”. Sorry folks you are completely deluded. We dislike the SNP. We dislike Nicola Sturgeon and think her arguments are poor. But if there were another General Election tomorrow the SNP would still win most of the seats. If there were another Scottish Parliament election they would still win a majority, perhaps even an overall majority. If there were a second independence referendum they would have to gain just a few percentage points to win it. At various points Leave was far further behind Remain in the polls. Who anyway can trust polls? The reality is that a second independence referendum would be a toss of a coin. We might have a slight advantage. But the SNP could well win. What’s more if they lost they would just dust themselves down and try again a few years later. After all we can’t inflame Scottish opinion and we couldn’t possibly deny them the chance.
Some folks may find me overly pessimistic. I would suggest they have short memories of the last campaign. Remember how our lead just vanished over the summer. One poor performance in a debate and the SNP had the lead. We spent the last week or two not knowing if we would win or lose. Never fight a battle that you might lose if you can avoid it. But above all else remember that Goliath thought he had no chance of being beaten.
The best ways to avoid battle is to prepare for it. It is crucial that Pro UK people are aware of the strengths of our position and its weaknesses. The biggest weakness and the reason we are where we are is the nature of Scottish public opinion. The reason that Remain lost the EU referendum is that few British people much like the EU. We may have thought it was useful, but we never had much love for it. The same goes for the majority of Scots with regard to the UK. Hatred of the UK obviously corresponds to support for Scottish nationalism. Those people who deny their British citizenship (Scottish not British) are far more likely to vote for independence than anyone else. These people make up the hard core 25-30% of Scottish opinion. There are around 30-40% of Scots who think of themselves as British and Scottish. These people will always vote to preserve the UK. That leaves around 30% in the middle who can be persuaded either way. The trouble is that these people have little love for Britain. They might be bought off by thinking we are “better together” but if they thought they’d get a few hundred pounds a year extra they’d happily vote for Scottish independence.
The SNP have the patriotic Scottish card. It is about the only argument they have. But it is a very powerful argument. I sometimes think it is the most powerful argument in human history. In certain circumstances it trumps every other argument. The Pro British patriotic card is much weaker in Scotland because relatively few Scots feel particularly British. For the past decades there has been a concerted attempt to eradicate our feeling of unity with the rest of the UK and to erase our common identity. It has to a great extent succeeded. The SNP with their education policies are doing all that they can to increase the sense of being Scottish but not British. The Scottish establishment appear happy to help. Our Pro UK patriotic card is therefore much weaker than it ought to be. But we must play it nevertheless.
There is a reason why Remain did not run a positive campaign about the EU. There is far too much about the EU that ordinary British people simply don’t like. The core EU developments of the past decades are not going well. How are you supposed to run a positive campaign about Schengen, the Euro and Jean-Claude Juncker? It was for this reason that George Osborne and friends decided to go negative again. The trouble is they overdid it.
There came a point last spring when the succession of world leaders and economists producing ever more lurid stories about what would happen if the UK voted to leave the EU became counterproductive. When David Cameron suggested World War III might result the reaction from ordinary Brits was not fear but ridicule. It is this that we must guard against.
We have the chance to run both a positive and a negative campaign about UK unity. There are lots of things that Scots like about the UK. Even those Scottish nationalists who hate Britain were desperate that certain things we all like about living in the UK would continue after independence. The key Pro UK message is that the things we like about living in the UK may well depend on keeping the UK intact and that the easiest way to keep them is to stay. In this way the campaign is both positive and negative at the same time. Uncertainty is our friend. There is no need to say that you will definitely lose something if you vote for independence. It’s enough to say that you might.
The campaign must be rooted in our history and what we have achieved as the UK. But it must also look forward to what we can do in the future. I think leaving the EU gives Britain a new role in the world. We have the chance to increase our free trade relations with the rest of the world, while maintaining an excellent relationship with our friends in Europe. We have not been particularly happy in the EU. This has caused difficulties for them and for us. Let us instead be good friends and neighbours. This positive story about our Post EU future is crucial to defeating the SNP. Even if you voted to Remain, make a virtue out of a necessity and help us make a success of our post EU future. If it becomes ever more obvious that the UK is going to do well, then Scots won’t want to leave.
The negative side of our campaign must focus on those swing voters who are persuadable either way. Don’t waste any time whatsoever debating with Wings and Co. Don’t answer them, don’t even talk to them. You will just get insults and abuse for your troubles. They are an asset to our campaign and hurt the nationalists. Who wants to vote for snarling losers?
A lot of former Labour voters have switched to the SNP because they hope that Scottish independence might bring them socialism/social democracy. These people believed SNP claims that independence would make them better off. This argument was false last time, but it is still more obviously false this time. The economic fundamentals are against the SNP.
Leaving the EU will made it much harder for the SNP to come up with a persuasive argument. The reason for this is that Scotland’s prosperity depends crucially on our relationship with the other parts of the UK.
The Republic of Ireland has a more important relationship with the UK than it does with Poland. The reason for this is that we have a shared language and history. Ireland joined the then Common Market at the same time as the UK for a very good reason. They waited for they knew it would damage their economy to be a in a different trade bloc to the UK. Unfortunately it will be hugely damaging to the Republic when the UK leaves the EU. Some have gone so far as to suggest it might force Ireland to leave too.
What goes for Ireland obviously goes for Scotland. To suppose that leaving the UK’s single market would make Scots wealthier is going to be a very tough sell for the SNP. For this reason they have been scrambling around looking for a way to maintain both membership of the EU’s single market and the UK’s single market. The SNP have hinted that they might not even want to join the EU if they achieve independence. They might want to be like Norway.
The problem is that the Norway option doesn’t really help the SNP. Why has Nicola Sturgeon been complaining about Scotland’s Remain vote being ignored if she herself is willing to ignore it? 55% of Scots voted to stay in the UK, while 62% voted to stay in the EU. Scottish independence with the Norway option gives neither group what they wanted. It becomes ever clearer that it is Nicola Sturgeon who is ignoring the wishes of Scots.
If Scotland remained part of the EU single market while the other parts of the UK left, then Scotland’s trade relationship with the UK would depend on what the EU negotiated with the UK. If the EU chose to impose tariffs on UK goods then Scotland would have to do likewise. Furthermore membership of the EU’s single market means that Scotland would have to accept free movement of people. But it is exactly to avoid this that the UK is leaving the EU’s single market. The danger then for Scotland is that it might be necessary to show passports at the English border.
The SNP argument always turns on the relationship of Scotland with the other parts of the UK. There are lots of things even Scottish nationalists like about being in the UK. They like free trade, they like an open border and the fact that it is easy to do business and move about our country, live and work where they please with no trouble and no form filling. But it is becoming ever more obvious that the easiest perhaps the only way to maintain these things is to stay a part of the UK.
Leaving the EU is going to make it much harder for the SNP to convincingly argue that life would continue as before. The EU guaranteed that citizens would have more or less the same rights in each other’s countries. But when the UK leaves the EU, the rights of Scots with regard to the UK would depend on negotiation. The UK would cease to exist if Scotland became independent. The Union flag and a name involving the word “United” could not continue. The citizens of the former UK might not see this as a particularly friendly act. They might not be inclined to allow Scots to maintain their British citizenship and they might not be inclined to be particularly helpful. If you think this is fanciful then you only have to look at the relation between Ukraine and Russia.
I hope there is never going to be another Scottish independence referendum, but if there is we must be ready with a positive story about the UK’s future. We must also recognise that negative campaigning that is grounded in fundamentals and in truth is effective. Those swing voting Scots who might think that independence would bring them a little more prosperity must be asked the following questions. Do you really want to live in a Scotland where we no longer use the pound you have used all your life. A Scottish currency might be pegged to Sterling, but what would happen to your mortgage if that peg broke? Would you be pleased if the relationship between Scotland and the other parts of the UK became much worse and much less friendly? How would you feel if you had to show your passport to visit relations in England? What if you had to gain permission to live and work in Wales? We don’t know what would happen if Scotland voted to leave the UK. But now that the UK is leaving the EU there are no more guarantees. Do you really think you’d be better off?
This post was originally published by the author 11 February 2017: http://effiedeans.blogspot.com/2017/02/how-to-respond-to-nationalist-threats.html