Monday, 29 February 2016

Putting the frighteners on

If you have read Joe Pike's "Project Fear" you will know, more or less, how the current EU Referendum campaign is going to run. The debate is being led today by a Cabinet Office paper predicting a decade-long plague of locusts (or something equally terrifying) if England votes Out.

The result of Project Fear (the Scottish Referendum version) was a collapse in the No vote. They held the line, just, but the impact of fear was simply to drive voters toward the much more positive Yes campaign. As First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pointed out today, "the In campaign in this referendum doesn’t have a 20-point lead to squander."

Except that in this campaign both sides are running Project Fear. It's Project Fear vs. Project Fearty, or Terror versus Horror, Bad versus Worser. None of the Westminster pack seem remotely interested in making the positive case for Europe. A positive case that includes basic rights for workers, that protects our privacy and data, that encourages international exchange and learning and that has meant peace in Western Europe.

This Horrible Hydra of a campaign will remind people in Scotland of the manipulation and propaganda of Project Fear in the Scottish Referendum. We will recognise the symptoms; the CEOs of banks, retailers and mobile phone companies who will announce that they will quit the country/close the banks/put up prices/shut off the phones if we vote the wrong way. A  desperate last-minute 'Vow' from David and his chums promising a lifetime of milk, honey and beer to anyone who will vote Stay. The media persuaded by the Cabinet Office to toe the Stay line. And a leak by Alistair Carmichael of a conversation between the North Korean Ambassador and The Muppets that purports to show that Dr Who wants to bed Boris Johnson.

We are going to see inside David Cameron and Boris Johnson's heads over the next three months. It's not going to be a pretty sight.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Stay, for Scotland

I declare an interest. I am one of the tens of thousands of Scots living elsewhere in the EU. I have been living in Catalonia for more than 15 years, which means that I can't vote in the EU referendum. If I could, I would vote 'stay.' Here is why:



For thousands of years we have sent our young people to war in Europe. Millions of them are buried in graves across the continent. The European Union has stopped that bloodshed, at least at home.


From human rights, through personal data protection, to workplace safety, the EU helps to protect its citizens. Yes, there are flaws, and yes, sometimes the regulations are onerous but the balance is better than you would be offered by Westminster. For evidence, remember that David Cameron refuses to rule out withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights if the rules don't go his way.


Thanks to the EU we have the right to live and work anywhere in the European Union. Tens of thousands of Scots have taken advantage of this EU rule. Some for the experience of working for a couple of years in another country, some to retire to the sunshine, and some for love. 

Within the EU it's easy. Try to do the same anywhere else and you'll be reminded of how things were before the EU came along: long queues for working visas, endless problems with residence status and the eternal sense that the Government could kick you out at any moment.

The exchange works both ways. The Catalans who live in Scotland bring youth, colour and culture (yes, and cuisine) to the country. Scotland needs that inflow of bright young people to grow its economy and support its services.


The multinationals have immense and increasing power. For evidence just look at how they ignore, subvert or escape from tax. Westminster is not powerful enough to tax Google - witness this year's laughably tiny tax settlement with the company, described as 'not a glorious moment' by one government minister. But the EU - 500 million citizens and one of the wealthiest markets in the world - does have the power. Facebook was forced to review its rules on personal data protection, thanks to an EU court. And thanks to SNP action and the interest of the EU's Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Google could be forced to (a) remove the bias in its search results and (b) pay more tax. An independent Scotland would need that EU-backed muscle to face down the power of the multinationals.

...and Paris or Perpignan or Perugia or Palma

It was a simple idea, and it works beautifully. The EU set up Erasmus in 1987. Now called 'Erasmus+' it allows students to swap places for a term or a year, helps volunteers to change places and teachers to exchange with colleagues in other EU countries. It has a tiny (in EU terms) budget, but has given millions of young people the chance to live, learn (and party) in another EU country. Simple, effective, good.

So yes, I'd vote for Scotland to stay.