“Brexit could plunge Britain back into recession”, according to Morgan Stanley. “Vote to Leave could trigger economic and financial shock” says Credit Suisse. “EU exit could cost £55 billion a year” says think tank.
The EU referendum debate has become a kind of bizarro version of the Scottish independence referendum, with banks, newspapers and think tanks lining up with the leaders of the main political parties to warn of doomsday if Britain votes to leave.
The similarities with Project Fear are uncanny. The other day we had Enda Kennedy, the Irish Taoiseach, saying that Brexit could damage the peace process in Northern Ireland. That echoes the alarmist headlines saying that Scottish independence could lead to renewal of “troubles” in Ulster.
As in 2014, we’re told that Brexit will lead to a flight of businesses: that companies like Nissan and Deutsche bank are “reconsidering” their investments in the light of the referendum. The Bank of England boss, Mark Carney, has again abandoned political neutrality to warn of the downside risks of going it alone.
Even odder than the rhetorical similarities between Better Together and Stronger In Europe are the alliances forged in the pro-European camp. We have Tony Blair and Nicola Sturgeon agreeing with each other that it would not be disastrous to leave the EU, and warning that Brexit could lead to independence.
What will happen if there’s a late opinion poll suggesting that supporters of Vote Leave are going to win; not impossible given the polls? Will the First Minister and David Cameron sign a vow on cod vellum promising to repatriate more powers just as long as every true Scots votes to stay in?
Of course, the pro-Europe SNP will not make the same mistake Labour made in forming a joint campaign with the Tories. That alliance in Better Together was damaging for Scottish Labour and led to Scottish voters being unable to distinguish between them and the Conservatives.
But it will be difficult for the SNP not to be lumped in with the Prime Minister and the business elite if they are using the same arguments, which they are. Problems about fisheries, the EU’s fondness for austerity economics and the patently undemocratic nature of the EU institutions are all glossed over in favour of Project Fear. We’d be out on our own. How would we cope?
The more I hear politicians recycle the arguments used against Scottish independence the more sympathetic I become to the advocates of Brexit. Do we seriously believe that Britain would be too poor, too wee and too stupid to survive on its own outside this discredited union with its dysfunctional currency union and democratic deficit?
I often ask myself why I still support remaining in the EU when it is run by and for a narrow banking elite. I remember asking myself the very same question about the UK about a year before the Scottish referendum. I think a lot of people are asking themselves that right now.
Were it not for Nigel Farage, there would be a serious debate about whether Scotland’s interests lie in a club that made clear in 2014 that it didn’t want an independent Scotland as an automatic member.
And I suspect many more SNP supporters privately agree with eurosceptic Jim Sillars than are letting on. Commentators have accused the SNP former deputy leader of hypocrisy because he was the foremost advocate of the policy of “independence in Europe”. The point, surely, is that the Europe people hoped for in 1989 is not the one we have today.
The SNP has always held up Norway as the model for an independent Scotland. Do Nationalists never ask themselves why Norway stayed out of Europe? As the Tory eurosceptics discovered, Norway is against the EU because it regards it as an undemocratic, big-country cartel and its founding document, the Treaty of Rome, as a right-wing, free-market manifesto.
Small social democratic countries face obvious risks entering this union. The Greeks can elect a government, repeatedly, and see its policies reversed by the European Central Bank. National governments in Italy, Spain, Ireland have handed over sovereignty to unelected officials.
So why is the SNP so keen on relinquishing Scottish national sovereignty? Former supporters of the Yes campaign must be mightily confused. The EU represents most of what they have been fighting against, including the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
TTIP epitomises much that is wrong with Europe: secrecy, lack of democratic accountability and deference to big business. The negotiations potentially allow US corporations to over-rule national governments on everything from fracking and bank regulation to nationalisation of public services.
As an instinctive pro-European, I always fall back on woolly ideas about “breaking down borders”. But national boundaries are being raised. The Schengen zone of passport free movement was one of the main reasons Europe could claim to be progressive but, thanks to the refugee crisis, Schengen seems to have collapsed.
I can accept the economic argument that Europe has, by creating a common market of 500 million people, increased economic prosperity. You only need to look at Spain and compare it with the impoverished dictatorship of the early 1970s to see that. But there is a serious question about whether or not we need the superstructure of the Brussels bureaucracy to maintain what is essentially a free-trade zone.
The great ideal of a United States of Europe – a democratic federation similar to the United States of America – is not on offer if it ever was. We have instead a eurozone that has turned into an engine of austerity economics that no supporter of the independence referendum could possibly regard as progressive.
And there seems no willingness to change it. Mr Cameron’s renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership has nothing to do with democracy; it is all about protecting British banks and denying “a bunch of migrants” access to benefits.
We need more from supporters of the EU than another campaign of fear and negativity, especially from the Scottish Government. SNP supporters are surely not so stupid that they can’t see the similarities between Project Fear 2014 and Project Fear 2016. Many are just keeping quiet because dissent is increasingly seen as indecent in SNP circles.
Pro-Europeans need to up their game. It may be true that the support of the press and a few scare stories about new recessions and wars in Northern Ireland will deliver a victory for “Staying in”. But it could turn out to be hollow if it is based on negativity fear and a monopoly of elite opinion.
The victory that Better Together had rebounded on it. Labour thought that winning the referendum by 55 per cent to 45 per cent would damage the independence movement. It didn’t. The SNP went on to win a counter-intuitive landslide. But now it has to be careful it doesn’t ruin its own political credibility by lapsing into the very negativity that it challenged, with considerable success, during the last referendum campaign.