By Barry Lord @bazneto
Squabbling, scaremongering and general negativity… As an Irish observer of the coverage of the ‘Brexit’ campaign, I wonder if I am alone in believing that the debate on whether or not Britain stays in the European Union has been characterised by one, if not all, of these descriptions.
It may be a matter of perspective but for this writer, that there is a distinct feeling of déjà vu.
I lived and worked in Scotland in 2014 during the Scottish independence referendum and have been struck on more than one occasion by the similarities between the two debates.
The right of the people of Scotland to decide their own destiny brought out much of what was great about political discourse.
Ordinary people, young and older, hitherto jaded by the political climate for too long were suddenly revitalised and open to the possibilities of what the future might hold if they were to break away from the United Kingdom and assert their sovereign power as an independent nation.
As the idea grew, so too did the debate.
Those that doubted the country’s ability to go it alone made their feelings known in print, on television and other media outlets.
‘Scotland can’t rely on oil, whiskey and tourism’ they said. ‘What about a currency?’ they argued. ‘Do we get to keep the pound?’
Before long, the lines in the sand were drawn. The ‘YES’ and ‘NO’ campaigns were established.
‘YES’ voters began to see a pessimistic view towards the idea of Scottish independence being fostered by many sections of the mainstream British media, not to mention political party leaders and MPS, many of whom were accused of planting seeds of doubt in voters’ minds over their country’s future prosperity in an independent Scotland.
The YES side would dub this campaign of negativity ‘Project Fear.’
Does any of this sound familiar?
Some observers may also note that the most vocal supporters of the ‘Out’ campaign were the same ones predicting financial and social Armageddon for the people of Scotland in the event of a YES vote.
For all that the Brexit question has stimulated debate; we have also witnessed – as in the Indy referendum – the truly divisive nature of the issue at hand.
Families have been pitted against each other; sons and daughters have argued with their parents, friendships have been tested.
Worryingly for those in the ‘In’ camp is the belief that a positive case for staying in the EU has not been made, or is being drowned out by the opposition.
Some Scottish voters who ticked the YES box on the ballot card in the independence referendum, pointed to the creation of doubt in the minds of the Scottish public as one of the reasons for their 55% for-45% against defeat in 2014.
With the increasingly forceful nature of the Out campaign’s argument, those in the Remain camp today can’t hope for similar doubts to sway voters into staying and a more compelling argument may have to be made.
Our own Enda Kenny voiced his concerns over what a British exit from the EU might mean for our borders, but perhaps once again this is an opportunity lost to accentuate the positive in the debate.
Only when the dust has settled after June 23rd will we see if the argument was won with the head or the heart.