As the vote on June 23rd draws near I have a sense of referendum deja vu, except this time my anticipation of positive, people-driven change has been replaced with a deep worry that we’re about to be dragged into an illogical mess against our will.
It’s therefore vital that progressive voices here in Scotland speak up, and persuade undecided voters – and the many who just feel unmotivated – that the challenges we face as a society are best tackled by remaining within the EU.
The greatest contrast between the independence referendum and now might well be the turnout. At 84.6 per cent, turnout in September 2014 was the highest recorded at any Scotland-wide poll since the arrival of universal suffrage. Research by BMG earlier this year suggested that we can expect a turnout in the EU vote of just 57 per cent. On the one hand you would hope that figure would have risen by now given the prominence of the campaign but on the other hand the dire quality of the debate will have undoubtedly put some people off. Rather than a vote about our economy, culture, international reputation and social, environmental and health protections, it has become prelude to a Tory leadership contest.
It is tempting for those of us on the Remain side to hope that the nonsense spouted by Leave campaigners won’t wash with the voters but we cannot be complacent. This week we heard utter drivel from Tory cabinet minister Michael Gove about how Brexit would give Scotland control of immigration when it quite clearly wouldn’t. This from someone representing a party that stands against Scottish independence and was against devolution of immigration in the Smith Commission. Gove also claimed his father’s fishing firm was put out of business by the EU, a statement that Gove Senior filleted within hours.
And then we heard from Jim Sillars. Like the Greens, he was on the money during the indyref on the issue of currency but this time he’s making about as much sense as he does when he calls for fracking in Scotland.
He claims Brexit would be fine as there’s no chance a future UK government would make changes to holiday pay, or maternity and paternity pay. Does he not see the hard-right forces in the Tory ranks salivating at the prospect of slashing workers’ protections and human rights? The comments from George Osborne that even deeper austerity would be required in the event of Brexit show just how desperate the Conservatives are for any excuse to speed up the dismantling of our society. Anyone who reckons that we’re safer with the devils we know has failed to think ahead.
Of course, the greatest challenge our society faces is the changing climate, something that Jim lives in denial of. Perhaps that partly explains his anti-EU position. Indeed, when you look at some of the right-wing names advocating quitting the EU you find the likes of Lord Lawson, founder of the climate change denial unit the ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’. Nigel Farage famously said that climate change “is based on a fallacy”, scoffing at the idea that “fossil fuels are going to run out.”
The EU is one of the planet’s most progressive voices on climate change, and where the EU has been leading the way other big players such as China and USA are now finally stepping up. As a member of the EU we can make the most of the economic opportunities of pursuing low carbon industries and infrastructure.
As my Green colleague Caroline Lucas MP put it: “Leaving the EU could wreck our chances of playing a part in the fight against this existential threat - and hand the country to people who don't even believe climate change is happening.”
And at a local level, I doubt public health would have been given as much protection had the issue of air pollution been left to the UK Government, which has sought to delay improvements and been pushed into action by EU regulation. Glasgow remains among the worst for air that is unfit to breathe and it’s simply not credible to suggest that leaving the EU would somehow speed up the progress we need to make on the issue.
On these and many other issues, there’s a compelling case to vote Remain on Thursday. It would be an outrage if Scotland was taken out of the EU against our will, but we would share responsibility for that disastrous outcome if we’re complacent and just assume that this threat isn’t real, or isn’t important. We all need to ensure that voters in Scotland actually turn out, to express the clear Scottish majority for Remain and assert our right to continue to play a positive role in the European Union.
This article first appeared in the National