Belfast Telegraph

Kezia Dugdale warns against underestimating 'populist nationalism' of Brexiteers

Kezia Dugdale has warned against underestimating the "populist nationalism" of those backing Brexit as she drew parallels with the arguments made by supporters of Scottish independence in the 2014 referendum.

The Scottish Labour leader pointed to symmetries in the arguments of the two campaigns as she launched Labour In for Scotland alongside Labour In for Britain chair Alan Johnson.

She said the EU referendum gives her party the opportunity to regroup following the "painful defeat" of coming third behind the Tories in last week's Holyrood election.

Labour will make the positive case for the EU in the face of the "confusion" of nationalists and the "civil war" in the Tory Party, she said.

Addressing supporters in Edinburgh, Ms Dugdale said: "We are Scotland's internationalist party. We believe in solidarity beyond borders. We believe that sharing sovereignty makes us all stronger, wealthier and safer. We believe in Scotland's place in the UK.

"For those of us who campaigned in the Scottish referendum, many of the arguments from those campaigning for Brexit are eerie echoes of those we heard two years ago from some of those campaigning to leave the UK.

"We defeated those arguments two years ago, but in doing so we learned that populist nationalism should never be underestimated.

"We know that even faced with the overwhelming weight of evidence, it refuses to concede anything to reasoned argument.

"So in this debate we must win the arguments that appeal to the head, but we remember that they have to be combined with a story that reaches people's hearts."

Ms Dugdale said that in some of the arguments made by Brexiteers, the "playbook" of the Scottish referendum is being brought out again.

She added: "If we believe of ourselves that we are as a nation in Scotland more pro-European than our neighbours across the UK, perhaps we have a greater responsibility on us in Scotland to make the positive case for Europe.

"And actually I wish the SNP would do more of this, because all I've heard them do so far is be really negative about how negative the European campaign has been rather than set out the arguments from their perspective about why we should remain as part of the EU.

"I think there's a challenge for the SNP with the strength of public will that they have behind them, to use that public will to make the case for Europe in Scotland and across the UK."

Mr J ohnson added: "I think there is a distinctly Scottish case as there is a distinct Welsh case. You can keep your national identity , this is really the nub of the issue.

"I think that's where there's a kind of parallel perhaps with the Scottish referendum, that you can keep your nationality, you can keep your identity and be part of something bigger."

Mr Johnson began his speech with a ringing endorsement of Ms Dugdale's leadership, telling those present: "When times are tough you need the best of leadership qualities - there is no better leader in the Labour Party than Kezia Dugdale."

A recent Survation poll put the Remain vote in Scotland at 76%, while the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said 68% of business people would vote to stay in.

But Mr Johnson warned: "We can take nothing for granted, there can be no room for complacency in this campaign when so much is at stake. This is a once and for all decision.

"We will make our case in an emotional and powerful way because the consequences of this decision will outlast this generation of political leaders and impact so profoundly on our future."

The former home secretary said that in addition to the importance of the EU for Scottish jobs, investment, safety, security and workers' rights, the debate is "about what kind of country we want to be".

Brexit would leave the UK "a small island, shut off from the continent, proud of our past, but unsure about the future".

Mr Johnson said: "Let's be clear, we are in the fight of our lives for the next six weeks. An event which will define a generation. The fork in the road.

"Never, in all my time in the Labour movement, have I known such solidarity, such unity across the party on a single issue.

"Scottish Labour, Welsh Labour, UK Labour, our 2,000 members in Northern Ireland, where we've been twice on this campaign, the parliamentary party, the affiliated unions, the constituency parties, the campaigners on the doorsteps. We speak with one voice.

"This is the Labour movement at its very best, working together to fight for workers' rights, for new jobs and protections for every family.

"And it will be the Labour Party's destiny once again in rising to the service of the nation to win the vote on June 23."