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Five Things the Britain in Europe Campaign Can Learn From The Scottish Independence Referendum

22/01/2016 10:59 GMT | Updated 21/01/2017 10:12 GMT

A supporter of Scotland staying in the Union, I also want Britain to remain in Europe. Below are some of the lessons the 'In' campaign can learn from the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.

One. Don't put off the vote.

The two-year referendum campaign in Scotland created a momentum of its own that saw the 'Yes' vote climb. Every time the independence question was raised on TV or elsewhere, both pro and anti supporters were interviewed. This at times gave a false picture - for instance most medium or large businesses were opposed to independence but many people were not aware of that as the small group of pro-independence business spokespeople were almost always given equal billing.

Over the two years prior to the vote, the attention given to the case for independence seemed to strengthen support for it. Persuasive and passionate advocates of a new future for Scotland did not waste their time in the spotlight.

Two: Listen to Alistair Darling

Darling is a grey-suited lawyer with a quiet manner, not a 'roll out the barrel' type like Nigel Farage. Hard to imagine the former enjoying a knees up at a lock-in in an East End pub. However despite his understated manner, Darling does have form when it comes to financial predictions, especially gloomy ones.

Famously, he predicted the financial collapse of 2009. He also told the Conservative party that they should not be complacent about the indyref. He was right about that too.

Then he wandered around Scotland for two years telling anyone who would listen that the oil price might fall and that the SNP plan to was 'fantasy economics'. Right again. One man's canary in the coal mine is another man's tweeting fearmonger.

So what does Darling think about the Euro ref? He argues that staying in is a sensible course which increases stability and that Brexit is a risky alternative with few likely benefits.

Three: But be about the head as well as the heart.

Notwithstanding (2), it's important to engage with the emotional aspect of something like this. For a lot of people it will come down to a question of how does this make you feel? For instance, in the indyref, it was how do you like the idea of a new, fresh exciting Scotland, free from the dead weight of the past? How do you feel about getting out from under yesterday's chip on the shoulder and building a tomorrow that will belong to all of us, not just the rich and the bosses and the politicians.

As someone commented at the time, while the 'Yes' campaign were rushing down a hill shouting 'Freedom', the 'No' campaign were standing a little behind saying: "Have you considered the financial implications of this?"

It wasn't until the eve of the referendum when Gordon Brown had his Heathcliff moment and delivered a passionate speech supporting the Union and the right of Scots to feel proud of it and to defend it, that the 'No' campaign really found its beating heart.

The European Union too is a big idea. It has its imperfect reality but at its core, It's a dream of concord and alliance that is part of Europe's move towards relative prosperity and respect for human rights.

Four: Respect your opponents.

It's worth remembering that the people on the opposite are - mostly - democrats and that there are people on your own side who are equally, if not more, unpleasant than the nastiest of your opponents.

There was intimidation and even violence during the last days of the referendum campaign in Scotland. Lots of 'No' voters said they felt too intimidated to speak out. But despite this, I was aware that the scariest people were definitely on my side.

The thing about a binary choice like yes/ no or in/ out is that it can be very polarising. You end up on the same side as people you may have seen as enemies and on the other side from people you love.

The way to navigate this is to remember, although as the vote approaches this is hard, that most of the people on both sides care about the future and want what they think is best. But if the campaign is close, people will fall out over it.

Novelist Denise Mina said after the indyref that anything that was said in the last fortnight before the vote should be forgotten as we all went a little crazy. Hang on to your hats and be nice.

Five. But don't underestimate what's at stake.

There are real dangers and threats in the world today. The European Union supports democracy and human rights in many countries which have relatively recently emerged from dictatorship: Spain, Greece, Poland. There are issues of course. Most power is retained by the Council of Ministers which is one reason the European Parliament has little effective power. However Britain is part of this important institution for good reasons.

What are the pros of a Brexit? They seem fantastic, by which I mean, a fantasy. What problems would it solve? Some of the gripes against the EU, around regulations such as the Human Rights Act, optimum banana curves and those that ban industrial strength hoovers and the like, seem downright petty. Recently I re-watched the movie Casablanca, set in a north Africa full of refugees from Europe, rather than the other way around as is the case at present. Europe has come a long way.

To paraphrase Rick, rows about three little regulations don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. The European anthem is Ode to Joy. Play it Sam (Cam)