‘Stop the trade in fear and get rhetoric under control’
“And the referee blows for no side.” Thus the inimitable Bill McLaren used to finish his incomparable international rugby union commentaries.
This is the position we are now in with the European referendum. Neither the Remain nor Out campaigns have inspired any enthusiasm whatsoever. They both trade in fear.
A metaphorical referendum referee would currently be blowing for “no side”. The Remain campaign led by the prime minister is greatly to blame.
We have daily warnings of economic armageddon from a chancellor whose own financial credibility is approaching that of Fred Goodwin, while David Cameron is busy threatening the real armageddon of World War III, unless we do exactly as he says.
However, not to be outdone in the silly stakes, the other side has “Bullingdon" Boris comparing the European Union to Hitler's attempted takeover of Europe while the Out campaign daily misrepresent and scaremonger over immigration statistics.
I cannot understand why the quitters want to keep Nigel Farage off the telly. He looks positively moderate in comparison with the foaming at the mouth of the official Out campaign.
It is almost as if “Project Fear" from the Scottish independence referendum had been split in two to make up both sides of the Euro poll.
Thus far this has made for a depressing referendum with an increasingly exasperated electorate trying to make sense of the overblown rhetoric. My view is the Remain campaign has most to lose from this campaign nihilism. By any logic the pro-Europeans should be a mile ahead. The Out campaign has totally failed to offer a coherent vision of what life would be like outside the European structure.
Would we be like Switzerland and Norway with a sweetheart trade deal, but as a result forced to still accept European regulations – or would the UK attempt to be a sort of mid-Atlantic Singapore, trading freely with the world? Either way of course there would be problems.
What gets eurosceptics out of bed in the morning is precisely getting shot of the sort of regulations that European Free Trade Area countries such as Norway and Switzerland accept.
Meanwhile, Singapore is successful precisely because it is a small country within a large Asian trade area called ASEAN, not a big country like the UK outside one.
However, the fact the Out campaign cannot agree on which vision of the future they prefer speaks volumes for their lack of coherence. Despite this, the two sides are still basically neck-and neck in the opinion polls, at least in England.
That would suggest something is badly misfiring in the Remain camp and instead of just demoralising the Outers the Cameron tactics are dispiriting the Remain campaign as well.
An alternative approach to the pro-Europe campaign would run something like this:
Remain are entitled to specify the achievements of Europe since its foundation some 66 years ago.
After all, the co-operation of 28 countries and a single market of 500 million people are not inconsiderable gains and ones which have contributed to peace, stability and economic progress.
The benefits that have been secured through the social Europe are also substantial to working people and to family life while Europe's cohesion in pushing forward a green agenda has been positive in forcing international agreement on climate change.
The fact that these are Europe's achievements does not mean that they would disappear overnight if Out were to prevail. But at the very least they would be placed in some doubt.
It is a similar story with the downsides of the European Union.
Remain should acknowledge that the Common Fisheries Policy has been dysfunctional and the Common Agricultural Policy inefficient.
However, against this, it should be remembered that it was a UK civil servant, not a Brussels eurocrat, who once declared Scottish fisherman to be “expendable", while leading Out campaigner Owen Paterson as agriculture secretary wanted to do away with farm support altogether.
All of this brings us back to the elephant in the room of immigration. I have been waiting for someone in this campaign to declare it a positive rather than a negative.
There is not a family in Scotland which does not have relatives scattered to the four corners of the globe and therefore not a family which does not understand the benefits that these Scots have brought to their new homes overseas.
Recently Donald Trump added his voice to those of the Brexiteers. One of his many promises in his campaign has been not just to erect a physical wall between the US and Mexico but also a tariff wall of 40% between the US and the rest of the world. Now if the appalling prospect were to come to pass, and “The Donald” enters the White House, under what basis would you rather negotiate the new trade deal – with the 500 million market of the EU or the 60 million of the UK?
Opinion in Scotland runs nearly two to one for Remain. Our own debate on both sides is largely free of the overblown rhetoric from the south, while Ukip have been dusted off yet again by the Scottish electorate. There should be an unwavering resolve to present the case for Europe steadily and positively.
The world is full of rich irony and unintended consequences.
In 2014 the prime minister claimed that a vote for independence would jeopardise Scotland's place in Europe.
Two years on, and with five weeks to go in another knife-edge referendum, he has created the circumstances where it could be only a vote for independence would secure it.