Now is the best time to negotiate and look for concessions as the EU don’t want the UK to leave especially now. However, given the UK have always sat on the EU fence, we are not well liked and any concessions won by Cameron now will surely damage long term relations. Cameron is hoping that he can get enough out of Europe to say to the electorate “We have won concessions, the EU isn’t that bad now and you can vote Yes to stay in”. However, the problem is that many of the Eurosceptic UK newspapers won’t be bought off unless there is a major win on immigration controls and an opt-out on benefits for immigrants, and that’s a big ask.
The Tories didn’t win their majority on their own, it was returning Ukip voters in the last few days of the campaign, switching back to the Tories to get an EU referendum, that made the difference. As I wrote in March 2013 “Labour will also have to offer the EU referendum or they will lose the General election and massive Eurosceptic vote in England. Going into the next election telling a Eurosceptic English electorate that they are not going to offer them a democratic choice on the EU is tantamount to political suicide”. I made the mistake of concluding that Milliband wouldn’t be so daft as to make such an error. Apparently you should never overestimate the Labour party!
The polls are looking good for continued EU membership. Back in February an Opinium/Observer poll found 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in. This week a new YouGov poll showed the Yes (to EU) campaign leading by 10 points, but the No voters were more motivated and more likely to vote. After removing the don’t knows, it sits at 55 per cent Yes to EU and 45 per cent No respectively. There isn’t a single person in Scotland that doesn’t know that a referendum at 45/55 in the polls is nowhere near a done deal.
When I interviewed Ipsos-Mori Research Director Mark Diffley a few months ago he said: “The situation in the rest of the UK is tighter than people think.” He added: “Attitudes towards EU membership have not changed in Scotland over the last year or so. Given the distribution of party support it is more likely that Scotland would both vote to maintain EU membership and be more likely to do so than in the rest of the UK.” He was right, a TNS poll this week found 62% of decided voters in Scotland would vote YES to the EU. This would have been news but for the same poll found 60% planning to vote SNP in next year’s Holyrood elections.
Generally Scotland, London the South West and North West want to stay in the EU and the other seven regions want to leave. So it is a huge gamble to have excluded 1.5 million EU nationals resident in the UK from voting. This also smacks of narrow-minded Little Britain nationalism, when compared to Scotland’s more enlightened approach to inclusivity in our referendum as, had non Scots-born residents been excluded in the same way, YES would have won. You won’t hear anyone complaining about that in Scotland though as Scotland’s is a civic nationalism aiming to improve the lot of the people of Scotland not just the Scottish people. The UK Government are also denying 16 and 17 year olds a vote despite the overwhelming benefits demonstrated only last year of engaging this age-group in key decisions about their future. Excluding two very pro-EU groups in such a tight race could very well backfire and in economic terms it would really backfire.
The problem is that the EU sceptic newspapers, The Times, Daily Mail, the UK Sun etc. will ‘big up’ Farage and flood us with exaggerated migrant stories (heartlessly misrepresenting the fact that they should be refugee stories) and highlight ‘silly season’ stories such as legislation specifying the curvature of imported bananas. What we really need to focus on is that the EU is the world’s largest single market with a population seven times that of the UK. Exports matter far more to Scotland than the rest of the UK with half of our exports going to the EU, so our food and drink sector could be devastated by a No vote. Over 350,000 Scottish Jobs are dependent on EU trade and a No vote would take the UK out of the common market, at least temporally. Some say we could have a Norway style deal, with access to the common market but without being part of the EU. Norway, however, to trade with Europe, has to apply European standards, to pay for access roughly the same amount as membership would cost but doesn’t get EU grants, has no MEP’s and no say in how Europe is run, so it isn’t a credible option for the UK.
So we are having an EU referendum so the Tories can grab back Ukip votes and a PM that is gambling that the EU are in a weak position, allowing him to grab enough concessions to win an EU referendum, even without EU nationals able to vote. That would kill the EU issue and Ukip and, with Labour on its knees, usher in the longest era of consecutive Tory majority governments ever. Scotland, which will vote YES to the EU, will demand and win another independence referendum if there is a No vote. If there is a YES vote we will see Scotland run from Westminster for a generation by a party we will never vote for – Hobson’s choice, as the old English saying goes.
Business for Scotland – The Campaigning Business Network