That’s a good thing. However, it’s difficult not to get flashbacks to 2011 when various unionist idiots were insisting that the Yes option should have been “Yes to the UK”, effectively holding a referendum on whether people wanted things to remain the same.
For us pedants, holding a referendum in order to ask people if they’re happy to leave things as they are feels instinctively odd, because if nothing else, it implies that there might be something wrong – a bit like someone randomly coming up to you and asking if you’re okay sitting where you are, making you suspect someone must have done something to the seat.
But it’s just as well, because the pro-EU side is going to need all the help it can get to avoid falling into the same pitfalls as the pro-UK side did last year. And unlike the “Better Together” campaign, the pro-EU campaign won’t have a 30%+ buffer in the polls to insulate it against being led by incompetent buffoons.
The Yes campaign will have the same major advantage that the No one had last year, namely people’s inherent resistance to change, and it’ll also have one of the Yes campaign’s biggest advantages, in that the opponents will be negative, reactionary idiots – the loudest proponents of a “Brexit” will be the same people that even the No camp had the sense to try and keep at arm’s length last year, ie UKIP.
But these benefits will be tempered by the disadvantages inherited from last year’s No campaign. It’s still difficult to make a no-change argument without coming across as a party pooper. “Don’t eat 10 delicious pizzas per day because you’ll die of heart disease” is clearly excellent advice, but it’s still an inherently negative argument.
This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the campaign was composed solely of progressive voices like the SNP and Greens, but unfortunately, the loudest voices on the Yes side this time will be the same idiots who managed to turn people off the Union in droves – not just pro-EU Tories like David Cameron and George Osborne, but also the negative, frightened, patronising captains of the business world.
(This time round they’ll have much more legitimate reason to be scared, of course, but they’re the Chief Executives Who Cried Wolf and their greed-driven hectoring will play right into UKIP’s hands as the fake party of the beleaguered working class.)
The media landscape will also be different this time. Whereas the independence referendum saw the media speak with (almost) one voice against independence, this time it’ll be much more split. The likes of the Sun and the Daily Mail will almost certainly be arguing for an EU exit, whereas the likes of the Guardian, the Herald and the Record will suddenly find themselves arguing for a Yes vote.
Media plurality is obviously a good thing, but it does present a potential problem – the press loves a good scare story, so instead of promoting positive reasons for staying in the EU, there’s a very real danger that the Yes side will get sucked into trying a repeat of last year’s Project Fear campaign.
Do folk who argued for Scotland to become a full member of the EU in its own right want to be dragged into telling people that an EU exit would be disastrous because we’d be taken out of a market of 650 million into one a tenth that size, that many businesses depend on cross-border trade to survive, and that we’d be putting up needless barriers between ourselves and the rest of Europe?
For those who want to remain in the EU, it’s important that the “Yes to EU” campaign doesn’t become characterised by reactionary politicians and newspapers screaming Armageddon if the UK dares to leave the EU – if nothing else, the argument that being outside the EU instantly leads to a basket-case economy would be just as absurd as arguing the same for being outside the UK.
While Yes campaigners last year could point to Ireland to disprove many unionist myths, this time around No campaigners will have several European countries to use as examples that being outside the EU doesn’t automatically lead to financial doom – and for obvious reasons it’s imperative that Scottish independence campaigners don’t fall into the trap of denouncing the likes of Norway and Switzerland.
The problem will be compounded by the difficulty of coming up with purely positive arguments. It’s not that they don’t exist, but people’s awareness of what the EU does is staggeringly low, mainly because the only time people ever really hear about the EU in the UK press is when it’s doing something wrong.
The anti-EU argument may essentially boil down to “IMMIGRANTS BAD” with a side order of “BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS BAD”, but those are exactly the arguments that the majority of the UK’s electorate voted for just weeks ago, so it’s difficult to see how a positive case based on freedom of movement and things like the EU Working Time Directive will suddenly move them.
So it’s important for pro-EU campaigners that the likes of the SNP don’t make the same mistake Labour made and team up closely with the Tories (of any variety) in any official Yes grouping – in fact, if they want to win, it’d probably be best if the Unionist parties just stayed the hell away from Scotland altogether and left it to the professional positive campaigners.
But even that pales in significance to the most important thing of all: keeping Douglas Alexander, Blair McDougall, John McTernan et al as far away from the Yes side as humanly possible. The polls are starting off pretty much neck-and-neck this time, and losing 20+ points over the course of the debate would be a catastrophe. If we want to stay in the EU, we can’t afford to let “Better Together” anywhere near the campaign.