by David Clarke, member of the European Movement in Scotland committee. ///
Anti-Europeans would have us all believe that the European Union is the source of all our ills and that more and more people in the UK simply want us to leave. But scratch below the surface and you find that attitudes towards the EU are in fact quite subtle, and that when the debate focuses on specific policy issues the EU is in fact very important to the vast majority of people, who are keen to stay in.
Take Scotland for example. Its four million voters are being asked next year whether to go it alone as an independent nation or to remain part of the UK. An important questions no doubt – one that involves ending a union that’s lasted 300 years and seen us from the enlightenment through to the age of iPhones and Google. But key among questions being asked by people on the street and by politicians is what this will mean for our relationship with the EU. Will Scotland automatically become another member of the club, or will we have to apply for membership while the remaining part of the UK stays in?
There are plenty of opinions as to what will happen (the Spanish Prime Minister this week, looking over his shoulder at Catalan nationalism, said he expected Scotland would have to reapply from the outside), but the message from this is clear – Scotland’s people value their membership of the EU very highly and one thing they don’t want is to find they’ve inadvertently left the world’s most successful multinational bloc.
Interestingly, many Scottish Tories are using the prospect of leaving the EU as a stick with which to beat the SNP, even though many of their colleagues, especially those down south, are want to mull that the UK might be better off detaching itself from our near neighbours and key trading partners. There’s even some evidence that Scots might be more likely to vote FOR independence as the best guarantee of staying in the EU should it look like English voters will drag us all to the exit.
So what does this show us? EU membership, when it’s on the line, is actually quite important to the Scots. But what about the English? Well again, it’s all about how you frame the debate and the questions that you ask. If you keep barracking people about immigrants taking their jobs and benefits and that this is all a nefarious EU plot, then you might find a certain antipathy to the EU.
If however you ask whether they really want to end the right to freely travel, work and retire throughout the continent, do they want to lose the millions of jobs that are connected with being part of the Single Market, and all the other small and big benefits connected with our membership of the EU, then you will probably see a different answer. The vast majority of the English also value the benefits of EU membership and they won’t like to see them taken away.
As the debate in Scotland is showing, the imminent prospect of losing something, rather than just talking about it in the abstract, can focus the mind.