Scotland/The UK and the European Union: The “Facts” (Delete as Applicable)

leave leaflet 001

This came through the letterbox. Unlike other Leave campaign literature, it purports to look at what the EU means for Scotland. Even though we’re not voting on whether Scotland should Remain or Leave, the Leave campaign face a tougher battle here than in the rest of the United Kingdom: EU membership was something presented as essential by both Yes Scotland and Better Together; every single elected party in the Scottish Parliament officially backs a Remain vote; only 8 MSPs voted against a motion supporting Scotland’s place in the EU (one of which was, apparently, by accident – I formally apologise on behalf of the people of West Scotland).

So when Vote Leave put together a leaflet tailored to Scottish audience, you’d think they would put a wee bit of effort in.

And right there, the problems begin. Generally speaking, whenever the Leave campaign use terms like “we,” “our,” “us” and so forth, or talk about “taking back control,” take a moment to ponder which collective this refers to.

leave leaflet 002


This the top of the double-page spread. Even though this leaflet is being delivered in Scotland, to speak to Scottish voters, specifically addressing Scotland’s relationship with the EU, I think it’s extremely important to differentiate between “we” as in the people of Scotland, and “we” as in the people of the United Kingdom – because if there’s confusion with the issue, then it’s very easy to distort an already misleading picture not just of what the EU does, but what the UK does too.

The thing is, an almost identical leaflet was delivered to households throughout the UK – but with several crucial differences. For one thing, the heading was THE UK AND THE EUROPEAN UNION: THE FACTS.

Leave leaflet UK

Why did they change this to Scotland, if not to tailor the leaflet – and the arguments – to a Scottish audience?

By explicitly using Scotland instead of the United Kingdom, every use of “we,” “our,” and “us” must logically refer directly to the people of Scotland – because if by “we/our/us” the authors meant the people of Britain, then why did they change the title from the UK to Scotland?

So keep this in mind: this leaflet is being delivered to households in Scotland, with the heading “Scotland and the European Union: The Facts.” It seems a reasonable conclusion to me that this is being addressed specifically to the people of Scotland.

On 23 June we face a choice: is it safer to stay in the EU permanently or to vote ‘leave’ and take back control?

If “we” = the people of Scotland, then how would us leaving the EU result in “taking back control”? Tom Harris, the Scottish High Heid Yin of Vote Leave, campaigned against the people of Scotland “taking back control” in 2014. Does voting Leave mean Westminster will dissolve the Union, allowing the people of Scotland to take their destiny into their own hands?

It’s a big decision – and there may not be another chance to vote for years.

Didn’t you just say it was a choice “to stay in the EU permanently,” yet now apparently there may be another chance to vote? This isn’t exactly a nuanced question: is EU membership permanent, or is it not? You can’t say something’s permanent and then say “there may not be another chance to vote for years,” because then it would not be permanent.

Games with language get more subtle – and more insidious – in the rest of the leaflet.

Over a quarter of a million people migrate here from the EU every year. This is the equivalent of a city the size of Edinburgh every two years. EU law means all members must accept ‘the free movement of people’. Many immigrants contribute to our society. They also have an impact on public services. Experts disagree on the overall effect.

The essential issue is what the leaflet means by “here.” If “here” means Britain, then that’s one thing. If “here” = Scotland, then no, we clearly do not receive “over a quarter of a million” migrants from the EU every year. We don’t even have a quarter of a million EU migrants in total: in 2011, 134,910 people residing in Scotland were born elsewhere in the EU, with current estimates around 171,000. An estimated 270,000 EU citizens came to the UK in 2015. 270,000 makes 0.42% of the UK’s population – which doesn’t make for a particularly terrifying number. 270,000 does, however, make just over 5% of Scotland’s population.

Juxtaposition is a powerful tool:


Over a quarter of a million people migrate here from the EU every year. This is the equivalent of a city the size of Edinburgh every two years.

Here’s the equivalent sent out to rUK voters:


More than a quarter of a million people came to the UK from the EU in the 12 months to September 2015 – the equivalent of a city the size of Plymouth or Newcastle in just one year.

The clear impression to me is that “here” could be interpreted by the reader as Scotland – even if Vote Leave don’t outright say the words “over a quarter of a million people migrate to Scotland from the EU,” there is nothing to suggest that “here” means “Britain,” and more linking “here” to “Scotland.” Neither Britain nor the UK are mentioned – in fact, they actually replaced the mention of the UK and two English cities – but Scotland and Scotland’s capital city are.

Why would Vote Leave change “Over a quarter of a million people came to the UK from the EU” to “over a quarter of a million people migrate here“? Why would they change the wording to make it more ambiguous?

The EU is expanding to include: Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. When we joined, there were just 9 member states. Now there are 28, the most recent being Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia. Five more countries are in the queue to join, including Turkey, totalling 89 million people. When they join, they will have the same rights as other member states.

This is one of those cases where “will” should be replaced with “may.” Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey may join the EU. They are currently in the process of application and are recognised candidates. However, that does not mean they will join the EU – Iceland applied to join the EU in 2009, but formally withdrew its application in 2013.

What’s more, those countries joining is entirely dependent on whether the existing members of the EU agree to let them in. If even one member disagrees, it doesn’t happen. Or are the rules somehow different now? In 2014, Scotland was constantly threatened with assertions that Spain would veto its EU membership – could the UK not then do exactly the same to these prospective new countries? If so, then why wouldn’t it – and indeed, the current UK government is pledged to support Turkey’s membership? If not, why does Spain apparently have greater power in the EU than the UK does?

That this is included as an innocent and innocuous fact is commendable compared to the xenophobic histrionics elsewhere in the campaign, but I have to think: what of it? Are we meant to infer that things were better when the EU was an exclusive club for only 9 countries away from the rabble? Is there something wrong with those five countries? Is it somehow undesirable that all member states have access to the same rights?

The European Union has changed enormously since we joined the ‘Common Market’ in 1973. The EU has taken control over more and more areas such as our borders, our public service, and VAT. The need to prop up the Euro means that more and more powers will be taken by the EU.

The EU does not have control over “our” borders, be they Scotland’s or the UK’s: both are controlled by the UK Government. The EU does not have control over “our” public services either: Scotland’s public services are controlled by the Scottish Parliament, while England & Wales’ is controlled by the UK Government.

The impression here is that the EU is some oppressive invading regime which suppresses “our” control and powers, completely ignoring the fact that “we” are part of the EU. Every change and evolution of the European Union has happened through the democratic mandate of EU member states voting on those matters. That includes the changes to movement of EU citizens, human rights, and VAT. (Murder, arson, jaywalking?) And guess what? The UK has signed at least five of the main treaties which changed what was the EEC to the EU today.

Vote Leave is treating the EU as if it is some sort of foreign government, rather than the unique political organisation it is, and ignoring the active participation of the United Kingdom in shaping its modern constitution.

Oh, and if “our”=Scotland’s, then presumably leaving the EU means we (the people of Scotland) would have more control over “our” borders, “our” public services, and “our” VAT? Even though there have been several parliamentary votes against those things being devolved to the Scottish Parliament? I’m not going to hold my breath.

EU law overrules Scottish law. This stops the Scottish public from being able to vote out the politicians who make our laws. EU judges have already overruled our laws on issues like counter-terrorism powers, immigration, VAT, and prisoner voting. The new ‘deal’ David Cameron negotiated recently can be overturned by the European Court after our referendum.

The brass neck of this…

No, the EU isn’t the one overruling Scottish law. The EU isn’t stopping the Scottish public from being able to vote out the politicians who make “our” laws. It isn’t EU judges that overrule our politicians on issues we care about. And the only reason the EU votes on those laws is when those laws are deemed to be part of the EU’s responsibility. Those laws on counter-terrorism powers, immigration, VAT, and prisoner voting are not “Scottish laws” – they are UK laws, supported by the UK government. The Scottish people rejected the party making those laws by handing them their worst General Election defeat in Scotland in 150 years: the people they did elect vigorously opposed the UK Government’s stance on issues – does that not imply that the people of Scotland agreed more with the EU than the UK government on these issues?

It is this forced equation of Scotland and Britain – and the people of Scotland with the people of Britain – that makes a mockery of Vote Leave’s attempt to present their own personal gains as something that could benefit the people of Scotland – because the people of Scotland’s goals and aspirations are not the same as the UK Government’s.

(As an aside, the EU does not control prisoner voting.)

The EU costs us at least £350 million a week. That’s enough to build a new NHS hospital every week. We get less than half of this money back, and we have no control over how it’s spent – that’s decided by politicians and officials in Brussels, not by the people we elect.

The EU doesn’t cost “us” “£350 million a week” no matter what definition of “us” you use – but definitely not the people of Scotland. Again, this vague use of “us” can mislead the reader into thinking that EU membership costs Scotland “£350 million a week,” a sum that means a lot more to a smaller country like Scotland than the UK as a whole. And, again, this idea that there’s some disconnect between “politicians and officials in Brussels” and “the people we elect” makes me wonder just what all those European elections were even for. A large number of those politicians and officials in Brussels are directly elected by the people of the EU – Scotland, and the UK, included.

You don’t have to be a member of the EU to trade with it. Countries across the world trade with the EU and exports even more to the EU than we do. Some big banks and multinationals think the EU is in their interests. Small and medium-sized businesses think differently. Only 6 per cent of UK firms export to the EU, yet all have to obey EU rules.

There’s that “we” again. We, the people of Scotland, don’t export to the EU. The UK does. Voting Leave won’t mean that the people of Scotland could initiate international trade – unless the UK was willing to devolve those powers. Time and time again, they have rejected such propositions by the MPs the people of Scotland did vote for.

(As an aside, when Full Fact asked Vote Leave for further details on that 6 per cent figure, they declined to respond)

While we’re in the EU, we are not allowed to negotiate our own trade deals. This means we currently have no trade deal with key allies such as Australia, New Zealand, or the USA – or important growing economies like India, China or Brazil. Instead of making a deal which is best for us, we have to wait for 27 other countries to agree it. Most small businesses say that we should take back the power to negotiate our own trade deals which we cannot do inside the EU.

Again, if we, the people of Scotland, were out of the EU while still part of the UK, we still wouldn’t be allowed to negotiate our own trade deals. Vote Leave is offering the people of Scotland nothing more, and nothing less, than what the UK Government is. Which is to say, nothing.

As for “most small businesses,” this is one of those places where Vote Leave really could have done with citations. Which “small businesses”? Can’t be the Federation of Small Businesses, which voted 47% in favour of Remaining compared to 40.9% voting Leave (10.7% undecided).

There are risks in voting either way. Experts, politicians, and businesses are divided. People have to weigh up the risks and potential benefits of each course of action for themselves.

Take a look at the list of endorsements from “experts, politicians, and businesses.” Divided, yes – but hardly equally so.

Over the page, we have celebrity endorsements.

leave leaflet 003

I’m not going to challenge Mr Sillars’ sincerity, but I do have to ask why he is giving credence to arguments he himself refuted heroically back when he was an MP:

We have met the challenge to substantiate Independence in Europe and provided an antidote of reason to the hysterical scare-mongering pursued by the twin Unionist parties, (the Other Party) and (the UK Government Party). Our case in unassailable.

The EU never “told us to get stuffed” – their hands were tied by the fact that all negotiations had to go through the member state, which was the UK Government. Spain never threatened us with its veto – just a few bliovates with vested interests.

Still, at least Mr Sillars actually advocates a Leave vote. What on earth is Stephen Gethins doing here?

Leave Leaflet Gethins

Something can’t be right: why on earth would an SNP MP – the SNP spokesperson on Europe, no less – be appearing to advocate a Leave vote in a Vote Leave leaflet? As far as I was aware, every single SNP MP and MSP was fully signed up to Remain. As should be clear from the context, however, Mr Gethins did not have a Damascene conversion – in fact, he sent off a letter to Vote Leave strongly criticising how his words were taken “woefully out of context” and placed in a “deliberately misleading” manner:

Dear Matthew,

Over the past few months my colleagues and I have argued that we need to take the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum and apply them to this one. This means engaging in a positive debate about the UK’s future in the European Union and giving the voters the respect they deserve when making up their minds ahead of referendum on the 23rd of June.

I was therefore both surprised and disappointed that you chose to take my remarks about having a positive debate and being respectful to each other woefully out of context and in a manner that is deliberately misleading in your recent campaign literature quoting me.

I had a wee look online to find some context:

The Scottish National party would like to say to all Members, in the debate on European Union membership, that we believe that the United Kingdom can be a successful, independent country outside the European Union but we want to debate whether it should be outside it. Those are the parameters of debate within which we should work.
5th January 2016

Another area is fishing; obviously, although the Minister can confirm this, there will be no treaty change. Scottish fishermen can tell of the failings of the common fisheries policy; they were of course described by the UK Government when we entered the European Union as expendable in the pursuit of the UK’s broader interests, so they are well aware of the impact of UK membership of the European Union.
  – 5th January 2016

You would think that Vote Leave wouldn’t have to twist the words of an elected SNP MP into supporting remain using blatant out-of-context quote mining, but here we are. It’s not helped that the question is “How would Scotland fare outside the EU,” and Stephen Gethins mentions the UK. Once again, the false equivalence of Scotland to the UK.

As an aside, Gisela Stuart’s contribution is actually rather revealing:

The rights we have won for Scottish workers came from our Parliaments, not the EU. The EU is run in the interests of the big corporations who spend billions lobbying to make it work for them.”

If the rights we have won for Scottish workers came from our Parliaments, then does it not follow that our Parliaments have much more power than Vote Leave is suggesting? If our Parliaments could win rights for workers, then they surely could continue to fight for them – unless, of course, the government of said Parliament was not interested in retaining those rights.

And that’s where we come to the nub of the issue: so much of what Vote Leave is blaming on the EU lies squarely on the steps of Westminster. It’s a catch-22 situation: how can Vote Leave claim that the UK is a mighty powerful force for good in the world, yet be utterly powerless in the face of what they call “red tape”? This is nothing like the Scottish independence referendum, because the EU is nothing like the UK. And in this leaflet, the falseness of the Leave Campaign’s “Take Back Control” slogan is laid bare.

You’re going to have to do a lot better than a quick find/replace to convince the people of Scotland to vote your way.

4 thoughts on “Scotland/The UK and the European Union: The “Facts” (Delete as Applicable)

  1. Jim Morris says:

    Personally, I want to stay In, for both political and economic reasons. But for those who reject the process as being about little Englanders, a spoilt ballot is better than not voting at all. Not voting hopes for the best from those who do vote, but are also asking them to do their worst.

    • Neither option offers me any hope for the future so there is no way I am giving my written consent to either executioner.
      The only choice I have to make on Thursday is whether to spoil my paper or just use the time I’d have spent at the polling atation in a more productive fashion.

  2. […] Scottish voters by appealing to them to vote for Scotland’s interests – sometimes even altering leaflets designed for “British” voters to include references to Scotland. The campaigns include […]

  3. […] campaigned for a Remain vote in the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union, for many reasons stated many times. I worked with the Scottish branch of the official Remain campaign, which […]

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