FORMER Labour MP Nigel Griffiths stole a march on his old ally Gordon Brown, unveiling an anti-EU poster as the former PM was preparing to launch the party’s Scottish campaign for staying in.
Mr Griffiths, Scottish co-ordinator for the “Labour Leave” campaign in the EU referendum, staged the stunt just off Princes Street, yards from the venue where Mr Brown was about to speak at the start of the Labour Movement for Europe’s drive to persuade Scottish voters to back continued membership.
We contribute £19 billion a year to the EU budget and the money we get back, we can’t say how we use it – the EU decides the parameters.Nigel Griffiths
Mr Brown predicted Scotland could vote by as much as 70 to 30 against exit. But Mr Griffiths, who stood down as MP for Edinburgh South in 2010, dismissed the forecast.
“I think he is wrong,” he said. “In the 1975 European referendum there were only two polling regions which voted No and they were both in Scotland – the Western Isles and Shetland – so there is a scepticism about Europe.
“We contribute £19 billion a year to the EU budget and the money we get back, we can’t say how we use it – the EU decides the parameters.
“The more this comes to the surface, the more resentment of ordinary people against the EU will come to the forefront. Gordon’s figures are built on sand, I’m afraid.”
Mr Griffiths’ close connection with Mr Brown goes back 40 years to the future premier’s time as student rector at Edinburgh University.
“This is the first major policy I have disagreed with Gordon on,” he said.
“I think history is going to be very kind to Gordon on his period as Chancellor and Prime Minister but on this issue we differ – and I’ve spoken to him face-to-face about it.”
No date has been set for the referendum, but Mr Griffiths believes speculation that it will be held this June is correct.
And he predicts growing support for “Brexit”. He said: “Quite a lot of MPs want to wait until the outcome of the renegotiation process, but I think we will then see a lot of Labour MPs coming out against the EU.”
Mr Brown used his speech to warn that pro-Europe campaigners must not allow Ukip to present themselves as “the true defenders of Britain” in the way that the SNP did with Scotland in the independence referendum. He said those who wanted the UK to remain in the EU should put forward their own “positive and patriotic” case, learning lessons from the 2014 vote. “We must never allow this debate to be one with Britain represented by Ukip and Europe represented by the rest of us.”