A vote to leave would give fresh oxygen to Scottish nationalists

Unionists should think carefully before voting to leave the EU, writes Ruth Davidson

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Many Scots like me are approaching the EU referendum with a keen sense of déjà vu. Two years ago during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, it was “Yes Scotland” promising free unicorns if only we had the courage to break up the UK. Now, it is Vote Leave claiming that liberation from the EU will make us all richer.

In 2014, it was those of us in the “Better Together” camp who were accused of scare tactics when we questioned whether there was any evidence for our opponents’ claims. Now those of us supporting a Remain vote are once again accused of scaremongering when similar, entirely justified, questions are asked.

To my mind, there is another comparison too. In 2014, we learnt quickly that the pro-independence cause was an article of faith. For many, no matter how many pieces of evidence were published showing the damage of separation, the UK was always at fault. Similarly in this campaign, Brexiters’ loathing of the EU trumps all else.

I share their sense of frustration with Brussels. The reform agenda begun by David Cameron, prime minister, must be continued with vigour if, as I hope, we vote to remain. But my problem with the Leave campaign, however, is that, as with independence campaigners, their hatred of the status quo is so intense that it blinds them to the consequences of their actions.

Those consequences are many. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be a large economic cost of Brexit. It is agreed near unanimously by economists and businesses large and small. But there are other costs too. Less than two years on from a vote which nearly ended our union, we cannot ignore how a vote to leave the EU may affect the future of the country.

The Scottish National party does not have a mandate to hold another referendum on independence under any circumstances. However, it is a simple fact that a vote to leave the EU, especially one which is not supported in Scotland, will create more constitutional uncertainty.

Nationalists such as Alex Salmond will be back out on manoeuvres, insisting that a new vote to break up the UK is only months away. And, once more, the pall of division will hang heavy over Scotland and the UK. I am sure this is not what the majority of Leave campaigners want. I do worry, however, that in their desire to remove us from the EU, they have not considered the possible consequences.

So I ask unionists therefore to think hard this week. I have heard Brexiters claim that a Leave vote will grant Britain “independence”. The irony of that claim is that a Leave vote may grant fresh oxygen to those who want to pull Britain apart.

I will be voting to remain within the EU for many reasons, not least for the economic case. I will also do so because I judge it the best thing for the future security of our country.

The independence referendum two years ago showed that the fundamentals of that union are strong but we cannot ignore that this is a country still in a febrile, fragile state. A Remain vote would help to put Britain’s debilitating constitutional uncertainty behind us.

It will switch the focus back to the more pressing tasks we face: that of building a stronger economy, reducing inequalities in our society and creating a more sustainable society. The UK has proved itself successful in meeting these challenges in the past. We need to give ourselves the chance to do so again.

The writer is leader of the Scottish Conservatives

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