Ian Swanson: A People's Vote doesn't guarantee a different outcome

THERE'S no such thing as a good Brexit just a range of bad Brexits, a leading academic in the Remain camp declared at the launch of the Scottish campaign for a People's Vote.

Tuesday, 6th November 2018, 6:00 am
Scotland is solid Remain territory two years after the 2016 vote. Picture: PA

And Dr Kirsty Hughes spelled out some examples of just how bad it’s already looking before we have even left the European Union.

“A CBI survey showed 80 per cent of companies had cancelled or postponed investment decisions, companies have already moved staff and headquarters to elsewhere in the EU, companies are being dropped from supply chains, EU nurses registration is dropping sharply, musicians aren’t getting hired for gigs across the EU next year because there’s uncertainty about their visas.”

The People’s Vote campaign wants a referendum to be held on the final deal which is eventually hammered out with Brussels – and if voters were not happy with that deal they would be able to vote for the UK to remain in the EU.

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Kezia Dugdale: A second vote would respect democracy

To coincide with the campaign launch, Scotland for a People’s Vote had commissioned a poll which found 59 per cent in favour of another referendum and 64 per cent who thought in such a referendum the UK would decide to stay in the EU.

Pundits say it is difficult to see how a new referendum would ever come about, despite apparently growing public support for the move.

The UK Government continues to rule out a second referendum, but Labour has left the door open and Nicola Sturgeon has said SNP MPs would back a fresh vote.

However there are serious questions. Dr Hughes argues that opinion polls now show a majority – albeit a narrow one – across the UK in favour of staying in the EU and she describes the campaigners as optimists.

But polls ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum also showed a majority for Remain. There is no guarantee another vote will produce a different result.

And there is the question which the SNP raised before coming down in favour of a second referendum – what happens if Scotland once again votes to stay, but the UK as a whole opts to leave?

The poll found Scotland still firmly in favour of continued EU membership by 63 per cent to 37 per cent, roughly the same as in 2016. But from the Remain point of view, Scotland was never the problem. A higher turnout here for a second referendum might boost the overall Remain vote, but the main battle has to be won south of the Border.

And some fear a second referendum could bring further problems, especially in some of the poorer communities in England which voted Leave – exacerbating the existing divisions, provoking further disillusionment and increasing alienation from the democratic system, even leading to social unrest.

And SNP MP Pete Wishart worries that a second referendum to confirm Brexit lays a trap for the party by legitimising any demand for an additional referendum to confirm independence if Scotland ever voted to go it alone.

The SNP leadership argues the key difference between the Brexit and independence votes was that there was a clear prospectus laid out for what independence would mean while no such document existed for Brexit.

There are strong arguments for a fresh vote on Brexit, but campaigners still need to face up to the difficult questions being raised.