Ian Swanson: Time for our politicians to take responsibility

THEY may be jaded after Holyrood election but they need to take a positive approach to EU referendum, says Ian Swanson.

Wednesday, 25th May 2016, 10:44 am
Updated Wednesday, 25th May 2016, 11:52 am
Nicola Sturgeon has been slow to make the case. Picture: Rick Findler/PA Wire

IT’S a big decision which will help shape the country’s future and affect all our lives. But so far the debate over whether the UK should remain part of the European Union or leave has been more notable for scaremongering, hype and exaggeration rather than serious analysis and discussion.

Neither side has shown much inclination to take on the difficult arguments and help undecided voters come to a clearer view.

According to those wanting to stay in, Brexit would spark a year-long recession, make it more expensive to fly, leave Britain more vulnerable to terrorism and could lead to a Third World War.

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Brexit supporters, on the other hand, suggest staying in the EU would mean millions of immigrants flooding into Britain, society being overrun by foreign criminals and bureaucrats issuing directives that bananas must be sold in bunches of just two or three.

The vote is in just four weeks’ time, on June 23. But the debate has been raging among Westminster politicians and in the UK media for months.

Scotland has come late to the discussion, mainly because politicians here were rightly concentrating on the Holyrood elections.

However, even now there seems to be remarkably little campaigning north of the Border. Few high-profile Scottish politicians have been making keynote speeches on the EU.

And activists are said to be worn out from the Holyrood campaign and less than eager to be knocking on doors yet again. Voters might very well feel the same. Given that Scotland has among the strongest support for staying in, while polls south of the Border show quite a tight race, David Cameron and the Remain camp could be doing with Scots showing a bit more enthusiasm.

But the many warnings to the Prime Minister about not setting the referendum date too close to the Scottish Parliament elections on May 5 were ignored.

The main pro-EU campaign north of the Border, Scotland Stronger in Europe, is deliberately non-party political and is fronted by academics and business people rather than high-profile politicians.

Following the experience of the Better Together campaign during the independence referendum, it is not surprising that parties are wary of getting too close, even when they agree – and arguably there is not that much common ground anyway, since the Labour, Conservative and SNP visions of Europe are all different.

Nevertheless, it means those heading the Remain campaign lack the normal firepower to get attention from the media and others.

The Brexit camp does not have the official backing of any of the main parties, although it does include some politicians from most of them.

A poll this week showed 54 per cent in Scotland in favour of staying in the EU and 32 per cent for leaving. The Lothians had the highest proportion of voters backing Remain – 67 per cent.

Nicola Sturgeon has rightly warned that the “fear-based” campaign exemplified by the latest predictions from the Treasury – that Brexit would hit jobs, wages and house prices – risks being counter-productive. “People have got the savvy to see through of some of the overblown claims,” she said.

But although Ms Sturgeon called for pro-EU politicians to make the positive case for staying in, she has come under attack from the Lib Dems for not doing so herself.

This campaign is now crying out for politicians to take a positive approach and engage with voters’ concerns.