terça-feira, 7 de junho de 2016
Brexit fails to set Scottish heather alight
Brexit fails to set Scottish heather alight
There is a wide political gap between London and Edinburgh. After June 23 it’s likely to be even bigger.
By PETER GEOGHEGAN 6/7/16, 5:28 AM CET
GLASGOW — Scotland’s enthusiasm for the European Union, and its political parties’ official support for the Remain campaign, stands in contrast to a far more divided playing field in the south, where certain English “home counties” are staunchly Euroskeptic. But it is a mistake to assume that the Brexit referendum doesn’t affect the Scots — or that they will necessarily vote to Remain in the EU.
When the U.K. last held a referendum on Europe, in 1975, more than two-thirds of England voted to remain in the erstwhile European community. Across the border, support was more muted — in Scotland the margin of victory was narrower, with Shetland and the Western Isles the only regions in Britain to advocate leaving.
Four decades on, the political roles have reversed. In England, voters — and politicians — are deeply divided over the European Union. North of the border, however, the consensus is firmly Europhilic: Polls put Scots in favor of staying in the EU by a majority of two to one. Every significant Scottish political party is solidly against Brexit.
In 1975, the Scottish National Party campaigned vigorously for withdrawal, warning that the European Community could strike “a death blow to our very existence as a nation.” Now, SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is a vocal proponent of the EU. Even the Scottish Conservatives are firmly pro-European, in marked contrast to their Westminster counterparts.
The fear of Eurocrat encroachment often expressed in England’s leafy “home counties” is generally absent from the Scottish debate.
In a debate in the Scottish parliament late May, all but a handful of parliamentarians backed remaining in the European Union.
Fiona Hyslop, the minority Scottish National Party government’s secretary for external affairs, called on advocates of leaving the EU to “cease their smears, speculation and downright ludicrous arguments.” Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale told the parliament there is “something beautiful about being part of this European family.”
One of the reasons Brussels appears more beautiful in Edinburgh than London is that it’s further away. The fear of Eurocrat encroachment often expressed in England’s leafy “home counties” is generally absent from the Scottish debate.
“This obsession with sovereignty, you don’t find that in Scotland,” said Michael Keating, professor of politics at Edinburgh University. “Even Euroskeptics in Scotland don’t obsess about Europe. The issue is just not that salient. It is not nearly as polarized.”
Distance is not the only factor. As with much else in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum, in Scotland the European Union is increasingly seen through the prism of constitutional politics. Many nationalists point to widespread pro-European sentiment as symptomatic of broader political differences with their English neighbors.
“Almost every issue in Scottish politics is filtered though the national question, so when we debate our relationship to Europe what we are really debating is our relationship to London and the rest of the U.K.,” said political journalist Jamie Maxwell.
In Scotland the European Union is increasingly seen through the prism of constitutional politics.
Where Europe often dominates the media in London, the topic struggles for political coverage north of the border. The debate focuses on overtly English concerns — especially immigration — which serves to further dampen a Scottish electorate fatigued after May’s Scottish parliament elections.
During the independence referendum campaign, Scotland was awash with political flags and symbols. So far this correspondent has only seen a pair of pro-EU posters, and a solitary “Vote Leave” banner draped from the gable end of a pebble-dashed house in Stornoway, a town of 8,000 people hundreds of miles from Edinburgh on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis.
‘You’re a racist!’
On a weekday afternoon outside Glasgow’s Victorian Central station four activists in red “Vote Leave” bibs are handing out leaflets. “In Scotland, people have only really begun to discuss [the EU] now,” said Robert Maylan, who has been campaigning daily for the past two weeks. “Support for the EU in Scotland is not a solid support. People view the EU less unfavorably but that shouldn’t be mistaken for any great love for the European Union.”
Passing rush-hour commuters show little interest. In over half an hour, barely a dozen pause to take leaflets. When Maylan starts talking about immigration into a specific area of Glasgow a passerby shouts, “You’re a racist!”
Part of the problem facing those who want Scotland out of the EU is the absence of a common message. While Maylan — who used to work for UKIP’s sole Scottish MEP, David Coburn — talks about immigration, fellow Leave campaigner Mary Stephen, a fervent Scottish nationalist, believes that her country can only be fully sovereign without Brussels. “This is the real independence referendum,” she said.
The political consensus for staying masks the reality that many Scots will vote to leave.
Few Scottish nationalists, however, seem to agree. Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars is practically the only high-profile nationalist advocating an Out vote, and Sturgeon’s party is firmly behind her.
“The Scottish independence referendum was about the sovereignty of a nation,” said Feargal Dalton, an SNP councilor in Glasgow. “This is not a sovereignty issue. Britain is still 100 percent sovereign. It is having a referendum and if it votes to leave no one in Britain can say ‘No you can’t.’”
Dalton admits that the EU is “remote to a lot of people” in Scotland. The political consensus for staying masks the reality that many Scots will vote to leave, said journalist and author David Torrance.
“The SNP — and everyone else — is banking on a Remain vote and they probably wish the whole thing would go away,” said Torrance.
Although the referendum has failed to set the heather alight in Scotland, the result could have huge implications for the country’s political future — particularly if England votes to leave.
“The first scenario is that all four nations of the U.K. vote to withdraw; this seems unlikely given the Scottish figures. The second is that England votes to come out and Scotland to stay in. The weight of English votes means that Scotland has to leave the EU against its will. This represents the material change of circumstances that the SNP has stated as a reason for a new independence referendum on the slogan of ‘Scotland in Europe,’” said Keating.
Polls suggest the SNP could win an independence vote if the U.K. left the EU. But with questions around currency and economics — which dogged the 2014 referendum — still unresolved, there is limited appetite for another run so soon among the SNP hierarchy.
Brexit might not presage the rapid break-up of Britain but it would create radical constitutional change within the U.K.’s devolved structures.
Even if nationalists were able to triumph on a platform of independence within the EU, with England outside the union, the normally placid Anglo-Scottish border would become a hard EU frontier — which neither government would want. Conversely, if Scottish ballots to stay in the EU were enough to overturn a slender English Leave majority, support for nationalism south of the border could surge.
Brexit might not presage the rapid break-up of Britain but it would create radical constitutional change within the U.K.’s devolved structures. Much of the control of Scottish affairs currently exercised in Brussels — including over fisheries and agriculture — would be transferred to Edinburgh, not London.
A nationalist-dominated Scottish parliament could still choose to follow European regulations and legislative changes, even if formally outside the union. “If Scotland wanted to continue playing the European game they could shadow Brussels rather than London even from outside the EU,” said Keating.
Even if Scotland and England do vote the same way on June 23, the Brexit referendum, rather than mending bridges, is further deepening the political gap between between London and Edinburgh.
Peter Geoghegan is a writer and journalist based in Glasgow. He is the author of the “People’s Referendum: Why Scotland Will Never Be the Same Again” (Luath Press, 2014).