Cui Bono? – roughly, “to whose benefit?” – is a Latin phrase often evoked in criminal investigation. Generally speaking, it is the principle that the likeliest perpetrator of any given action is the person who stands to gain from it – usually, who is most likely to gain from an unlawful event. The principle can be applied outside of legal mysteries: in historical studies, it helps to build a picture of the past; in politics, it can define hidden motivations behind rhetoric.
So when people who are ostensibly pro-EU attack the SNP for their pro-EU stance, one has to wonder: cui bono? Certainly not the Remain campaign – the SNP make up their greatest supporters in Scotland, which is one of the most pro-Remain areas in the entire UK, which suggests the SNP are pulling their weight in this debate. Certainly not the Other Party – their relentless SNPbad agenda has only resulted in worse and worse election defeats since 2007; attacking the most popular party in Scotland by criticising their support of something they also support may be the sort of myopic lunacy the party’s known for, but it’s difficult to see how it actively benefits them. Not the UK Government Party either – given they’re officially neutral in the campaign and a significant number of their supporters (including MSPs and councillors) back a Leave vote, they’d arguably win either way. The Coalition Party’s just happy to still be here. So who benefits from attacking the SNP’s pro-EU stance in the campaign for the EU referendum taking place later this month?
The only logical answer is the Leave campaign.
Before we begin: we didn’t start this. The SNP’s position on the EU has been criticised since before the European Referendum came along, and it will almost certainly continue to be criticised whatever the outcome. So the calls from Willie Rennie and others for the SNP to stop the “friendly fire” is, to put it mildly, pretty bally cheap – though I do have to wonder why the “independence in Europe isn’t really independence” argument seems to have only cropped up in fairly recent years.
Let’s look at one case in detail.
Who benefits from Ms Headley’s post? Not her party: the next election is a year away. Not Ms Headley herself, since – as far as I’m aware – she is not standing for the council elections. Not the Remain campaign: Alyn Smith is working for a Remain vote. So why on earth is Ms Headley falsely equating the UK, a sovereign state where ultimate power lies with Parliament, with the EU, a supranational union of many sovereign states? Cui bono?
Treating the SNP’s rejection of the UK and enthusiasm of the EU only makes sense if you think the UK and the EU are both more or less the same just because they’re both “unions” – indeed, to the point where pundits claim you could easily cross out “EU/continent” with “UK” and find the SNP making “Unionist” arguments! Such a comparison is based on a complete ignorance and wilful lack of appreciation for the differences between the UK and the EU – and it plays straight into the Leave Campaign’s hands.
Consider: certain sources seem to be adamant on making this a re-run of the Scottish independence referendum. The logic goes “the No campaign won the indyref, so if we copy the No campaign, we’ll win the Euroref.” It seems logical: after all, common sense suggests that undecideds will generally go for the status quo, and that fear of change and the unknown can be a powerful persuasion. Likewise, many people like to pretend that the Leave campaign is the UK’s “counterpart” to Scotland’s Yes Campaign – much like the perpetual insistence that the SNP and UKIP are peas in a pod.
Remain campaigners seem oblivious to the problem in presenting the SNP as just like UKIP – that the SNP are popular. Comparing the SNP to UKIP is meant to damage and de-legitimise the SNP, as UKIP is still far less popular in Scotland than in England or Wales despite their apparent “breakthrough” MEP. In their desperation to smear and undermine the SNP by comparing them to UKIP, it never seems to have occurred to these individuals what the comparison would do for UKIP – and comparing UKIP to the most popular and trusted government in Western Europe, who won 95% of the seats they contested in 2015 with 50% of the vote, nearly clinched a majority in a parliament designed to prevent them with over a million votes for the first time in Scottish history, and led by one of the most powerful women in the world, is placing UKIP in company it poorly deserves. Policy details aside, what Proud Brit wouldn’t want their party to be considered the “British version” of such a remarkable phenomenon?
Saying the SNP’s arguments for Remain mirror the arguments for a No vote falsely legitimises Better Together – but actively evoking the SNP’s arguments for independence with that of the Leave campaign falsely legitimises the latter. I can get why Unionist parties would want to trap the SNP into “pro-Union” situations – but you can’t do one without the other. The SNP’s success means that directly comparing the Leave campaign’s arguments to the Yes campaign’s doesn’t hurt the SNP nearly as much as it benefits the Leave campaign. You are strengthening the Leave campaign’s rhetoric of “taking back control” by hinting that Brussels has the same amount of control over the UK that Westminster has over Scotland (it doesn’t). You are promoting the Leave campaign’s “positive case” by equating it to an independence campaign that went from 30% to 45% within the final year – despite the entire might of the British Establishment going against it. You are giving credence to the Leave campaign’s accusations of scaremongering by acting exactly as you did during the independence referendum – and people can compare what the UK did after a No vote to what might happen after Remain.
But the EU is not the UK, voting Remain or Leave is not voting No or Yes, and the campaigns of the EU referendum are not the campaigns of the Scottish referendum. 4 newspapers – 2 of which of the are in the top 10 best sellers – back Leave, while only 7 newspapers so far support Remain; every daily newspaper in Scotland was either “neutral” or openly No, with only the weekly Sunday Herald for Yes, during the indyref. 14 political parties operating in the UK support Remain, to 18 supporting Leave; in contrast, 13 political parties, including the three largest in the UK Parliament, supported No, to 8 supporting Yes (only 4 of which actually operate in Scotland). More profoundly, while most of the UK Parliament supports Remain, at least 159 (139 UK Party, 10 Other Party, 8 DUP, 1 Coalition Party, 1 UKIP) back Leave; compare this to the independence referendum, where nearly the entirety of the UK Parliament were openly and actively opposed to Scottish independence, yet only 10 MPS (the 6 SNP MPs, 2 Plaid Cymru, Caroline Lucas, and Other Party’s George Mudie) supported Yes.
What are the Leave campaign’s most cited primary motivators for leaving the EU? Taking control of our own affairs; creating a fairer country; better accountability and democracy; emphasis on our priorities; a better relationship with our neighbours. Just like the Yes Campaign – only unlike Scotland, the United Kingdom is a sovereign state. Pretending that Brussels treats the UK like Westminster treats Scotland is one of the Leave campaign’s greatest deceits – and possibly one of the most successful, seeing as the Remain vote is gaining ground. Attacking the SNP for favouring “one union over the other” legitimises that deceit, strengthening the Leave campaign despite the mendacity of such a comparison. The more the “SNP want to take independence from UK and hand it over to Brussels” conceit is spread – by supposed Remain supporters as well as Leave supporters – the stronger the support for Leave.
The supporters of other parties are so clouded by their antipathy for the SNP that they cannot see how their continued attacks do nothing for Remain, but plenty for Leave – and the parties which support it. The only reason the UK is even a coin-toss is because Scotland is so strongly pro-European – the Remain campaign in England is failing miserably, Wales is too close to call, and Northern Ireland’s population is too small to make a difference beyond 1% (and that’s despite the DUP being pro-Leave!). The SNP are the only governing party in the UK which is undeniably winning their Remain fight: if you also support the UK remaining in the EU, why in the name of logic would you choose to undermine them?
Yet even if it’s a Remain vote in the end, this mischief will have further consequences. Let’s say the results echo the indyref: 45% Leave, 55% Remain; a majority of English voters, as well as Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish voters, voted to stay in the EU, so it doesn’t result in making scapegoats of the other nations. What happened after the independence referendum? The devastated 45% coalesced behind one party, deserting their former homes. The leader of the largest “winning” party was forced out in the wake of so many of their supporters abandoning them. By the time of the next election, politics in the UK was turned upside down. No, it won’t be identical – enough of the UK Government Party support Leave for supporters to justify staying with them – but the more people try to make the European Union Referendum a repeat of the Scottish Independence referendum, the more frequent the convergences. Comparing the SNP’s arguments for EU membership to their arguments for independence only aggravates matters.
Is that a future you really want? Are you prepared to sabotage the UK’s membership of the EU just to stick it to the SNP? Are you fine with legitimising UKIP by comparing them to the SNP – a party whose success, trust, and popularity is unmatched in the British Isles? Is sating your hatred of the SNP justification for undermining your own cause? And is this a future which would benefit you?
Cui bono, my fellow Remain supporters?