Remain campaign must change its tone

Remain campaign must change its tone
The National, by Alex Salmond


Jon Snow is the best broadcaster in the country. He is no spring chicken as a presenter. He is often these days described by using the dreaded adjective “veteran”.


He is not even the slickest, sometimes perplexing himself, as well as the interviewer, with an occasional completely off-the-wall question. However, he is honest and brave and the viewers know it – which is why he is simply the best and certainly the most trusted.


And so, when he had a go this week at the Euro referendum campaign, saying he cannot remember a “worse-tempered or more abusive, more boring UK campaign,” then we should sit up and take notice. Writing in the Radio Times, he compared the campaign unfavourably to the “coherent and comprehensible” precedent set by the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, saying it has been dominated by abuse and “intemperate challenging of facts by both sides”.


He was immediately attacked by both Euro teams, as you would expect. No doubt silly Willie Rennie has demanded that he withdraws immediately from campaign broadcasting for stating what is a manifest truth. The underlying problem with the Euro campaign is not just that you can remove the prefix from under-lying. It is that there is effectively no positive proposition. Most referenda are proposed by people who want to achieve or to change something. It could be something as important as an independent country, something as significant as a new voting system or something as comparatively minor as a national anthem. However, it means that one side at least is essentially arguing a positive case.


This referendum has been proposed by a Prime Minister who effectively wants to change nothing except around the edges of British/European exceptionalism. Therefore, little or nothing of his campaign has been on the positive case for Europe.


That case, and it is the potentially winning case, is about peace and social and economic progress in western Europe over the course of more thanover six decades. Instead, we have an exercise in inflated scaremongering on the economy.


Meanwhile, the Out campaign will never being knowingly undersold when it comes to predicting the apocalypse. Their very own special nightmare is immigration. Forget the reality that EU migrants are hugely net beneficial to the economy, that in many areas they provide the bulwark of health service staff, that many (although fewerless than there should be) are actually students. According to Leave, all will be well if we restrict that quarter of immigration levels, which is the result of the free movement of people across the European Union. It is as if Project Fear from the Scottish campaign had been sliced in two and reincarnated on either side of the Euro debate. Little wonder, therefore, that most people in Scotland would fully endorse Snow.


However, the real truth is that this is not really a Scottish debate. Nor is it an Northern Irish one and nor even a Welsh one, despite the curious throwback of Neil Hamilton now disgracing the benches in the National Assembly. This debate is an English agony, as the author Anthony Barnett has been explaining recently in his excellent blog on Open Democracy. For it is England that is in ferment, about immigration, its sense of self, about her place in the world, about the total vacuum of her political leadership. Europe is merely the easiest and latest way to kick the establishment.


We are thus being treated to the ridiculous spectacle of Michael Gove and Iain Duncan-Smith pleading the case of the common man. “Up the workers – and pass the caviar” says Boris, sipping his G&T!.


Make no mistake. If this desultory campaign continues in this vein, then England will vote Out.


For Remain to win, two things need to happen and happen quickly. Firstly, the Sky “debate” on Thursday showed the folly of having the Prime Minister as the sole figurehead of this campaign. Not only does he alienate non-Tory voters, the audience showed that the game is almost up with middle England. Once they start to laugh at you, then the ba’ really is on the slates. Obviously, you can’t totally fade out the present Prime Minister, but we need to hear much more of the case for Remain from Corbyn and from the progressive female triumvirate of Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas. The plain people of England may only speak in this debate when they hear something worth speaking up for.


Secondly, the Remain campaign must reboot from negative to positive. The reply to scaremongering on European immigration from Leave is not to say we will have less which you cannot promise, but that it is fundamentally a good thing. For example you could hypothecate the £2.5 billion net annual tax contribution from EU migrants to building an extra 100,000 socially rented houses a year. Finally, whatever happens in this English debate it is imperative that Scotland votes powerfully for Remain. The Scotland in Europe case has been at the heart of the extraordinary success of the national cause for the last quarter of a century. However, it would be wrong to regard it as just a recent phenomenon.


When William Wallace and Andrew de Moray won their extraordinary victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297, they became joint guardians of the Community of the Realm of Scotland. Virtually their first official act was to write to the mediaeval forerunner of the European Union, the Hanseatic League, based then in Lubeck, announcing that there had been a change and that Scotland was once again back and open for European business. Before ere long, Scotland may require a modern-day version of that letter and a Remain vote is the first and essential step in that process.