Much of the commentary around the upcoming EU referendum has been about the depressingly negative and downbeat tone of the debate, with both of the official campaigns for Leave and Remain failing to learn the lessons of the Scottish Independence referendum and choosing to pursue ‘Project Fear’ style scaremongering instead of the positive, progressive and aspirational arguments that saw a huge swing towards the Yes side over the course of the independence referendum.
In contrast very little commentary has been dedicated to the impact these negative and uninspiring arguments are likely to have on voter turnout, or to the wider efforts that are being made to encourage people to vote in what is such a crucial decision for our future.
The Scottish referendum was a high water mark in terms of voter engagement and turnout, for any election, anywhere in the UK. The debate made people passionate about politics again and inspired people to get involved, and as a result we saw a huge turnout in Scotland of 85%.
Although the EU referendum campaign is on a much faster burn, over a far shorter period, it is just as important that we see a high turnout on such an important issue. And to achieve that there is an onus on the campaigns to forget the fear-mongering negativity and instead discuss the issues in a sensible manner and in a way which makes the debate relevant to voters.
The referendum is evenly poised and could go either way over the next two weeks. While the polls in Scotland look extremely good for Remain, the combined polls across the UK as a whole are showing marginal leads are being exchanged by remain and leave on a weekly basis, so we cannot take our place in the EU for granted. It is possible that even if Scotland votes to remain by some margin we could still be dragged out of the EU by a strong vote for Leave in other parts of the UK.
It is vital that we get out and inspire people to vote on June 23rd. There will no doubt be many people who want to remain part of the EU but do not currently feel passionate enough or inspired enough about the referendum campaign to go out and vote. Some may think the result is a foregone conclusion – that we couldn’t seriously be intent on giving up the huge benefits and influence of being part of the EU – but that way of thinking is what could allow more determined No voters to win the day simply as a result of a poor turnout.
It is easy for people to feel distant from the EU and the impact its decisions have on our everyday lives. For instance, many people in Airdrie & Shotts, and further afield, will be unaware of the £175million contribution made by the European Investment Bank in 2014 towards the M8, M73 and M74 upgrade works. A crucial series of projects to improve connectivity in our area, supported by Europe. There will be thousands of projects like this that benefit people across the country on a daily basis and that would not have happened without EU funding.
More than that, our rights as workers and as citizens are protected as part of the EU.
The EU protects and promotes our right not to be discriminated against because of our age, gender, sexual orientation, race or disability; a social charter that protects our rights as workers including the right to 20 days paid holidays a year and the right to maternity, paternity or parental leave are all guaranteed at EU level.
The single market of 500million people is accessible for our businesses, workers and consumers through our membership of the EU. We can only influence the way that market operates by staying as members. It protects brands, like Scotch Whisky, to ensure our best products keep their premium status and cannot be produced elsewhere.
Yes there are issues. Frustrations. But they are not enough to outweigh the benefits of our membership.
So the main message is to vote, but please consider whether there is enough of a vision emanating from those who wish us to leave to outweigh the undoubted benefits we receive by being part of the EU. I just can't see it and I will be voting to remain.
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