Ian Swanson: Could Scots tip scales in EU referendum?

Gordon Brown speaks in favour of remaining in the EU. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Gordon Brown speaks in favour of remaining in the EU. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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WITH just days to go until the referendum, both sides claim the tide is in their favour north of the Border, says Ian Swanson.

AS the EU referendum enters its final stages, the result is looking very tight, with a series of polls showing the Brexit camp with a clear lead over Remain.

The experience of last year’s general election has made everyone wary of putting too much trust in polls, but those campaigning to stay in the European Union nevertheless fear the referendum, which they once assumed would be an easy win, could be slipping away from them.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland could prove the decisive voice in next week’s vote, arguing that strong Remain support north of the Border could make all the difference to the outcome. And according to the bookies, Edinburgh is expected to produce the biggest vote for continued membership in Scotland and possibly the UK. So could it be Capital voters that tip the balance and decide the issue in favour of staying in?

Opinion polls have consistently predicted an overwhelming Remain vote in Scotland, with a far closer race south of the Border.

But UK Justice Secretary and leading Leave campaigner Michael Gove claims the decision in Scotland is on a “knife-edge” and could yet come down in favour of Leave. “The question of how Scotland votes and the question of the whole of the UK votes is entirely open at the moment,” he said. “I’m struck by the fact that the enthusiasm and momentum seems to be behind the Leave side.”

Former prime minister Gordon Brown – credited by many with helping to halt the Yes bandwagon in the independence referendum – is taking a leading part in the closing stages of the campaign amid fears that many Labour supporters across the UK are planning to vote for Brexit.

He has outlined a “Labour agenda” to change the EU by creating 50,000 new jobs, cutting energy prices, restricting tax havens, increasing protections for workers’ rights and improving border security.

Ms Sturgeon has also been seen as a key player, leading the Remain side in last week’s televised debate with Boris Johnson and others from Leave.

She has since said she believes the vote next Thursday hangs “in the balance” and has described the apparent increase in support for Leave as a “wake-up call” for those who expected Remain to cruise to victory – though she added she still believes that there is a majority UK-wide in favour of retaining EU membership,

But despite a united front from the SNP’s 54 MPs and 63 MSPs in favour of staying in the EU, a large proportion of Nationalist supporters – perhaps as many as one in three – are thought likely to vote to Leave.

Some might think a decision by the UK to quit the EU would help provoke a second independence referendum – but the trigger which Ms Sturgeon and colleagues have spoken about would require a majority Leave vote at UK level while Scotland voted clearly for Remain. So SNP voters backing Leave could be defeating their own objective.

The big issue the Leave campaign has been focussing on most recently is immigration – a topic which is arguably less contentious here than in many parts of England.

That might suggest Scotland will not see the same surge in support for Brexit as south of the Border.

But if there are more Labour Leave supporters than previously thought and a sizeable SNP vote for getting out, the Remain camp should perhaps not count too much on Scotland to save the day.

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com