Just got one referendum out of the way, and another one coming along – this time on the EU.
SNP policy, rightly, is that there is no need for a vote, and the reasons for that need to be made with vigour by the 56. But given the Westminster arithmetic, and Labour’s recent U turn, EURef is going to happen. We need to plan how to best manage the pitfalls, and the opportunities, it presents.
On the substantive issue, the case for continued EU membership is strong and clear. Free movement of people goes both ways, the EU market is essential for Scottish business and being part of a wider international community is a big part of who we are as a modern outward looking Scotland. There are concerns about structures, as in all political systems, but these are no reason to cut ourselves off from our European neighbours.
So when it comes to the campaign what do we know, and what don’t we know? Well the first lesson, based on the IndyRef experience, is be careful who you campaign with. In other words don’t share a campaign with the Tories.
EURef in Scotland will run to a different tempo and with a different backdrop from the rest of the UK. The levels of political engagement in Scotland are higher and a plethora of national and local organisations focus on debate – inside and outside of the political parties. A welcome legacy of IndyRef. People are open to talking politics in pubs and clubs. No doubt we will see a higher turnout here too.
The relationship between Scotland and the EU under current, and any future, constitutional arrangements will colour the campaign in a way that it won’t south of the border. And Scotland has consistently shown itself to be less attracted to the UKIP anti-immigration agenda, their support here a small fraction of what they have seen in the rest of the UK.
All of this demonstrating what is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone: this is a different country. It thinks differently, feels different and campaigns differently.
There will, no doubt, be ‘official’ UK wide campaign organisations for Yes and No, in the same way as during IndyRef. These will be regulated and their funding controlled. There will most likely also be the opportunity for campaigning organisation to register on both sides, as there was during IndyRef. (The CBI famously having decided it was, then wasn’t, officially on the No side).
The position of the political parties is less clear. During IndyRef there was no doubt who was on which side, and political parties were allocated spending limits on each side of the vote. Whether the same will apply during EURef, with more substantial minorities in the Tories (and Labour) aligning with the No campaign, is not yet clear.
The momentum from Indyref drove the membership surge and the election of the 56. On the horizon we have the Holyrood elections next year and then local council elections in 2017.
Activism is contagious. The concept of the perpetual campaigning organisation is attractive. Far from being a nuisance, this is the life blood of democracy.
Timing is key. The expectation has been that EURef will be held in 2017, but some are now noting that a 2016 poll may hold some political advantage for David Cameron.
So we need a plan for EURef. Whether for a 2017 vote, or to be put into action earlier is as yet unclear. A May 2016 EURef adds more complexity, but also possibly more opportunity.
The advantage lies with whoever has a plan.
So where does that leave us. A distinct and separate ‘Scotland says Yes’ campaign and organisation is required. Pulling together all progressive (i.e. non Tory) supporters of the EU. The reality is that the positive grassroots campaigning experience, the number of activists, and the landscape of post IndyRef campaign organisations means that a substantial part of that campaign will be formed from many of those involved in the 2014 Yes campaign.
The door is open of course for other progressives to join.
This presents a dilemma to the remains of the Unionist parties in Scotland. Align with a Tory led, UK wide ‘official’ pro-EU campaign, or be part of the grassroots ‘Scotland says Yes’ movement.
London leadership will no doubt dictate the former. Another nail in the coffin.
It also offers us a great opportunity to engage positively with EU citizens in Scotland who while they don’t have a vote in EURef do vote in Holyrood, and IndyRef, elections.
The campaign can start now, with plans for organisation structures, funding, local groups and key campaign messages being laid down. Preparing for the public meetings and grassroot activism that will make the distinctive Scottish says Yes campaign a news story across Europe in the same way that IndyRef was. The more our neighbours see our distinctive positivism on this issue the better for the future. We know more than anyone the value of ‘the long campaign’. The UK media will be focussed on EURef as their default top news story now for most of the next 2 years. ‘Scotland says Yes’, first out of the blocks, putting up media speakers, making the case for continued EU membership, setting the agenda, dealing with concerns and signing up supporters can’t happen early enough.
Ivan has worked and lived in a number of European countries, has family and business across the EU, and is old enough (just) to remember the last EU referendum.