Two things are already pretty much set in stone as Britain’s EU referendum draws nearer. One, the In campaign is going to be crap. Two, the Out campaign will be quite good.
There’s an inevitability to this. All of the fun, the ammunition and the magical unicorns are on the latter’s side. After all, its proponents can basically say anything.
Out: ‘After leaving the EU, Britain will quickly sign a free-trade treaty with the Romulan Empire, opening up a lucrative new market for Reading’s plasma torpedo entrepreneurial cluster.’
The British public: ‘Ooh…’
The Romulans: ‘Actually, we’d rather sign a treaty with the wider EU. And it’s the Krakow cloaking device industry we’re most interested in.’
The British public: ‘Hold on, that sounds a bit worryi…’
Out: ‘No no no, the Romulans are just saying that because they are part of the vast supra-galactical EUSSR/NuLiebore conspiracy. It’s perfectly obvious to everyone but a dimwit that they’ll change their minds as soon as we leave. They’re gagging for Reading’s plasma torpedos.’
And so on. President Obama, who was cheered to the echo by Unionists last year for saying he thought Scotland might be better off inside the UK, is told by many of the same people to zip it now he suggests the same could be true of Britain in the EU. There will be much, much more of this. It makes my very soul weary.
Meanwhile, those who have committed to defending our membership will have the devil’s own time of it. Let’s be honest: the EU sucks, with its waste, corruption and inefficiency, its culture clashes, its inner and outer layers, its anti-democratic bullying of the little guys, the French… In fact the only thing I can think of worse than the existence of the EU would be the non-existence of the EU.
As Unionist Scots discovered last year, it’s hard being restricted to reality, with its need for oxygen and underwear and day jobs, when you’re up against the supernatural predictions and unchallengeable certainties of the bug-eyed visionary in panting pursuit of their life’s goal. You’re defending the track record of a battered old institution that is deeply flawed, often its own worst enemy, and that has of course done many unlovely things. Meanwhile, the other side can go all-out on the bad stuff, which always makes for a better story, while pooh-poohing any positive impacts (‘that would have happened anyway!’) and making up a lot of unprovable nonsense about how brilliant everything would be on the other side.
If you dare point out the flaws in their arguments, you are accused of a lack of patriotism and ambition, of ‘talking Scotland/Britain down’. If you suggest compromise and inter-dependence is a necessity, not a choice, you lack vision.
When I read a tweet by Dan Hannan saying ‘How is restoring our national independence – the normal condition for an advanced democracy in the modern world – a “leap into the unknown”’, it is like Alex Salmond has risen from his indyref grave. Every time Tim Montgomerie talks about something called an ‘independent Britain’ a little part of me dies. When the Outers bang on about being like Norway or Switzerland, ‘but even better!’ (woop – what an aspiration!), I entertain thoughts that we’re deporting the wrong people. All this is before we get to the existence of Roger Helmer and Arron Banks and Theresa May’s conference speech.
There’s every chance that the UK will vote to leave the EU. Some Outer friends even think it’s now probable. But it will have been built, as Kingsley Amis once elegantly put it, on an inverted pyramid of piss. And be prepared for the consequences: the resignation of the PM, the departure of Scotland from the UK, the capture of the Tory party by the Right, an even more emboldened Labour Left, the final diminishment of a once-great world power. If and when that happens, take a look around you: all the wrong people will be clapping.