The Conservative Case Against Brexit

Foreign Affairs Magazine

Dalibor Rohac

 

It is now up to British voters to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union—not to foreign leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama and IMF head Christine Lagarde, who have offered their advice on what the right choice might be. The voters, however, would do well not to automatically dismiss what Obama and Lagarde have said. Rather, they should reflect on their substantive merits.

The truth is that the case for “Brexit” does not hold water. Although there is much to criticize about the EU, its existence is an important achievement, which would be put in peril by the United Kingdom’s departure from the bloc. Conservatives, classical liberals, and advocates of free markets should be particularly wary of becoming cheerleaders for the EU’s demise. Instead, they ought to be at the forefront of efforts to reform and improve the bloc.

Free-marketeers and small-c conservatives might see Euroskepticism as a natural extension of free-market convictions. For fervent believers in the strength of competition, including between different currencies and regulatory and tax systems, European integration might look like a misguided attempt at integrating markets via the unnecessary centralization of political decision-making. And so it seems logical for the president of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus, to compare the EU to the former Soviet Union, and for free-market think tanks to criticize the EU’s populist overregulation, common currency, and common agricultural policy, among other things.

But Euroskepticism is not an inevitable corollary of free-market conservative thought—something that the iconic voices of the free-market movement well understood. Friedrich von Hayek wanted a European federation. He called “the abrogation of national sovereignties” that it would entail a “logical consummation of the liberal [i.e. free-market] programme.” Hayek, who later received the Nobel Prize for Economics, recognized that the efforts to liberalize trade in the nineteenth century had ultimately failed because European countries lacked a joint system of governance that would keep domestic protectionism and nationalism at bay.

Illustration picture of postal ballot papers June 1, 2016 ahead of the June 23 BREXIT referendum when voters will decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union.

Illustration picture of postal ballot papers June 1, 2016 ahead of the June 23 BREXIT referendum when voters will decide whether Britain will remain in the European Union.

Hayek’s thinking on international federalism developed alongside that of Wilhelm Röpke, a German free-market economist who argued that Europe‘s postwar reconstruction should involve a scaling up of the Swiss model of governance to the international realm, since that would allow the creation of a system of governance that would be simultaneously decentralized and allow for the joint provision of fundamental, pan-European public goods—especially economic openness and security.

Even Hayek’s mentor, Ludwig von Mises, who was generally seen as a much more radical free-marketeer than his protegé, wrote in 1944 that for Western European countries, “the alternative to incorporation into a new democratic supernational system is not unrestricted sovereignty but ultimate subjugation by the totalitarian powers.” And, when British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher campaigned for the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Economic Community in 1975, she recognized that “almost every major nation has been obliged…to pool significant areas of sovereignty so as to create more effective political units.”

Today’s world is very different from that of the 1940s or the 1970s. But that does not make the European project irrelevant. Quite the contrary. Even the seemingly economic components of European integration, such as the single market, require a significant pooling of political sovereignty, a bureaucracy, and courts to enforce the rules. In part, this is because a single market goes far beyond the question of the tariffs that, until 1968, separated markets in the countries of the European Economic Area. It has sought to curb regulatory protectionism and other, more subtle barriers to trade, including distortionary state aid spending directed at national champions.

The single market did not arise overnight. It took decades of political and legislative effort, most notably in the form of the Single European Act, spearheaded by Thatcher and Conservative politician and eventual European Commissioner Arthur Cockfield, to reach the degree of economic openness existing in the EU today. The single market is perhaps the most striking example of what the EU does best—namely, that it serves as a commitment device.

When Euroskeptics complain of the constraints that European integration imposes on national sovereignty, they are thus missing the point. European treaties, the entire body of EU law, and the decision-making authorities disentangled from national politics exist for a good reason—to allow politicians in member states to get around the problem of credible commitment, which is pervasive in democracies, and which involves the omnipresent temptation of policymakers to renege on their promises.

The United Kingdom benefits greatly from the “financial passport” that allows its banks and other financial businesses to operate anywhere in the EU. To see how, look to Eastern European reformers in places such as Slovakia or Poland who used the prospect of EU accession as a sweetener for domestic reforms that would have otherwise been unpalatable. For countries such as France or Italy, EU policy is often the only thing that keeps their leaders from returning to their countries’ historic traditions of providing state aid to national champions. It was, after all, the European Commission that forced Italy to dismantle its state-owned steel industry in the 1990s and pushed France toward the opening of its electricity market in 1999. Without the United Kingdom’s voice at the table, the EU would inevitably become a much weaker force for economic liberalization, and some of prior achievements could even be reversed.

Euroskeptics have a point when they say that there is a flipside to the single market—namely, the existence of a large and burdensome system of regulation at the European level. It would be much better, they argue, if member states simply recognized each other’s regulations and technical standards without imposing a one-size-fits-all solution on everyone. But unconditional mutual recognition is not realistic—largely because governments are unable to commit credibly to such a policy. Hence, although common EU directives certainly impose a burden on the European economy, that burden needs to be compared against the burden of 28 different and potentially incompatible regulatory systems, hindering free movement of goods, services, capital, and people.

The United Kingdom, with its sizeable sector of financial services, benefits greatly from the “financial passport” that allows its banks and other financial businesses to operate anywhere in the EU. The City of London is also home to the European Banking Authority, an EU-wide financial regulator, over which the United Kingdom has had a significant influence. A departure from the EU could jeopardize these arrangements and raise doubts about the future of the city as the world’s financial capital.

A car sticker with a logo encouraging people to leave the EU is seen on a car, in Llandudno, Wales, February 27, 2016.

A car sticker with a logo encouraging people to leave the EU is seen on a car, in Llandudno, Wales, February 27, 2016.

The complaint about EU regulation is just one example of the nirvana fallacy of Euroskepticism. No one would deny that the European Union is a highly flawed organization. However, it makes no sense to compare it to impossible alternatives. The relevant counterfactual to today’s European Union is the Europe of protectionist, nationalist states that was long the baseline of the continent’s history.

Even the late nineteenth century, sometimes called the First Age of Globalization, was the period of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s “iron and rye” tariff, France’s Méline tariff, and a continent-wide drift toward protectionism. In 1913, tariffs on manufactured goods averaged 18 percent in Austria-Hungary, 13 percent in Germany, 20 percent in France, 41 percent in Spain, and a staggering 84 percent in Russia. At that time, the United Kingdom appeared a free-trading nation in comparison, with no tariffs on manufactured goods and an average applied tariff of around 5 percent on all imports. Yet, throughout much of the nineteenth century, until the late 1870s, the UK was highly protectionist, with average tariffs exceeding those in France.

With the advent of World War I, followed by the Great Depression and then by the bloodiest conflict in human history, international trade essentially collapsed, greatly exacerbating the human misery that characterized the first half of the twentieth century. By that token, the past 70 years of European history, during which Europe has become more economically open, democratic, and peaceful than ever before, are a complete historical anomaly. Whether one believes that the EU deserves any credit for this outcome, one should think twice before trying to tinker with the system of international political architecture existing in Europe.

SCO heralds winds of change in South Asian security

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MK Bhadrakumar
May 27th, 2016
[Original Article]

Membership in Shanghai Cooperation Organization will provide India and Pakistan a rare opportunity of co-habitation to kick-start a normalization process that eluded them for six decades. As a vista of unprecedented scale of interaction in security cooperation opens up, the two neighbors are likely to improve their ties

The foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) who met at Tashkent Tuesday recommended to the summit meeting of the grouping slated to be held on June 23 in the Uzbek capital the signing of a memorandum of understanding granting membership to India and Pakistan.

For all purposes, the process of inducting the two South Asian countries as SCO members has touched the finish line.It was in September 2014 that India formally applied for full membership. The SCO had granted ‘observer’ status to India and Pakistan ten years ago in 2005.

To be sure, Asian security and regional power dynamics is poised for a historic makeover. India and Pakistan are nuclear powers. They bring in a staggering 1500 million population under SCO’s canopy.

With their induction, SCO territory reaches the waters of the Indian Ocean and the grouping stance akimbo as a compelling presence on the edges of the Persian Gulf. Suffice it to say, the SCO’s transformation as a security organization takes a big leap forward.

The SCO will take up Iran’s membership question as soon as the formalities of India and Pakistan’s induction are completed. Conceivably, by the end of the decade, Iran will also have joined the SCO as full member.

Traditionally, China focused on SCO’s activities in the economic sphere, but lately, it shares Russia’s interest in the grouping’s profile as a security organization. The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the Tashkent meeting, “The SCO has become a paradigm of global and regional cooperation with great vitality and significant influence, and serves as a model of efficient cooperation by paying equal attention simultaneously to economic development and security cooperation.”

No doubt, growing tensions between China and the US play a part here. Wang can take immense satisfaction that the meeting in Tashkent adopted a communique voicing support for the Chinese stance in the South China Sea dispute.

Taking a swipe at Washington (and Tokyo), the SCO foreign ministers strongly opposed “outsiders’ interference” and attempts to “internationalize” the dispute.

This is the first time that SCO lined up to support China in its hour of need. There is poignancy insofar as China is the recipient here. The SCO support takes away some of the sting of the G-7 barbs voiced at the summit meeting in Japan. In geostrategic terms, SCO support has much greater relevance than G-7 beating distant drums.

The point is, SCO stance is a consensus that India too eventually comes to share. The draft memoranda adopted at Tashkent on Tuesday – with informal consultation and concurrence of the Indian government – commits New Delhi to mandatorily join the relevant conventions and internal documents that exist within the SCO framework.

In relation to South China Sea dispute, India too has been drifting away from the US-Indian Joint Vision Statement on Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean issued last year in New Delhi in January during the state visit by President Barack Obama.

The joint communique issued after the annual trilateral Russian-Indian-Chinese foreign-minister level meeting in Moscow two months ago decided to hold joint focused discussions later this year in regard of South China Sea situation.

Again, India held back from responding to recent American urgings for the two navies to undertake “joint patrols” in South China Sea, although Pentagon officials voiced confidence that India would join the bandwagon.

Equally, SCO’s rapid transformation as a security organization can be seen against the backdrop of the New Cold War stand-off between Russia and the US. The guarantee that India, Pakistan and Iran will definitely refuse to countenance deployment of US missile defense systems can only work to Russia’s advantage in maintaining the global strategic balance.

Russia and China are conscious of the imperative need to offer to Iran an enduring matrix (through SCO membership) that strengthens its wherewithal to retain its “strategic autonomy” vis-à-vis the West.

Indeed, Iran’s SCO membership also helps preserve the strategic balance in the Middle East where traditional US military presence is being steadily augmented with 3 NATO powers lately setting up military bases – France in the UAE, Britain in Bahrain and Turkey in Oman – and NATO too inserting as a provider of security and expanding its footprints through various partnership formats, including in Iraq.

In a fundamental sense, therefore, Russian-Chinese entente is injecting new verve and dynamism into SCO. At Tuesday’s ministerial in Tashkent, Wang underscored that China and Russia “maintain close strategic cooperation in international and regional issues, and have become important components of international stability”.

Now, that is a powerful articulation of the co-relation of forces in regional politics. Wang added that the SCO’s development and strengthening constitute “an important force for preserving peace”.

China is also pushing for acceleration of the “linking” of the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union and Beijing’s One Belt One Road project, as agreed upon last year in May by the presidents of Russia and China.

The big question for the moment, however, concerns another security front: What does the induction of India and Pakistan as full members of the SCO portend for the regional grouping’s new-found “pro-activism” or the two regional powers’ mutual relationship?

India-Pakistan relations are in doldrums and the prospects of meaningful dialogue between them remain uncertain. Will they carry their intractable, acrimonious differences and disputes into the SCO tent and impede the grouping’s functioning?

Or will they use the rare opportunity of co-habitation the SCO tent provides – and the vista of steady, institutionalized interactions that it opens up away from publicity – to kick-start a meaningful normalization process that eluded them so far in their tortuous 60-year history?

Cynics despair that India and Pakistan are simply incapable of the maturity expected from responsible nuclear powers. However, a good case can also be made with a contrarian prognosis.

If the “hereditary enmity” between France and Germany could be overcome and transformed into a “special relationship” by 1963, the idea of European Community had sowed the germane seeds.

The heart of the matter is that SCO compels India and Pakistan to cogitate, listen, while sitting around a table – or have a quiet word on the sidelines.

Apart from annual summit meetings, SCO mechanisms envisage frequent consultations at different levels involving heads of governments, foreign ministers, national security advisors, chiefs of intelligence and armed forces, security czars dealing with internal security, and so on.

SCO conducts joint military exercises to finesse and coordinate their operational strategies and share intelligence. To be sure, a vista of unprecedented scale of interaction in security cooperation will open up. It should not be surprising at all if, modestly put, the climate of India-Pakistan relations improves in a positive way.

Then, there are SCO’s regional projects for enhancing connectivity, strengthening energy security or fostering infrastructure development. It is entirely conceivable that India may at some point take a fresh look at China’s One Belt, One Road projects.

Much, clearly, lies in the womb of time, but the high probability is that India and Pakistan’s SCO membership will transform regional security in South Asia. Indeed, China and Russia are stakeholders in promoting such a process.

France Is on Strike But the Real Problem Is Even Worse: Q&A

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Gregory Viscusi
May 30, 2016
[Original Article]

French President Francois Hollande is facing the most serious public unrest since he came to office four years ago. Most of the country’s refineries have been on strike for a week. Protesters have blockaded refineries and fuel depots, causing shortages and long lines at gasoline stations. Air traffic controllers and electrical workers have joined in. And the turmoil has exacerbated a labor dispute already underway at the national railroad.

While the French have stoically gone on with their lives, some protests have turned violent: a police car was torched on the streets of Paris May 18. This week, railroad workers, Paris transport employees and air-traffic controllers plan to strike, and some unions are threatening to disrupt the 24-nation Euro 2016 soccer tournament that begins June 10.

Aren’t workers in France always on strike? What’s different?

The ostensible cause of these disruptions, the most extensive since 2010, is a law loosening up some of the country’s rigid labor rules. The standoff has undermined Hollande, already the most unpopular president in French history, less than a year before the next presidential election. A Socialist, he came to office in 2012 with the support of unions, many of whose members now feel betrayed by his attempts to loosen labor protection.

What do you mean, labor protection?

Labor law in France is governed by the “Code du Travail,” an almost 4,000-page tome that covers everything from bathroom breaks to the size of windows in office. Layoffs can take years and require expensive payouts. The 35-hour work week, introduced in 2000 by a previous Socialist government, has further complicated the rules. France’s unemployment rate has hovered at about 10 percent for three years, and organizations from the International Monetary Fund to the European Commission have urged a loosening of the rules. Germany did so in the mid-2000s and unemployment there is now 4.5 percent. Even one-time laggards such as Spain and Italy are now outperforming France on job creation after liberalizing their labor markets.

So what’s the government doing about it ?

Parties from the left and the right, when they’ve governed the country, have acknowledged that France’s labor laws are too rigid while shying away from major changes. Campaigning in 2012, Hollande ran to the left, saying “finance is my enemy” and as president setting a 75 percent tax on high incomes. Then, after appointing Manuel Valls as prime minister in 2014, his government cut payroll and income taxes and pushed for looser labor regulations. Valls presented the so-called El Khomri law — named after Labor Minister Myriam El Khomri — last February.

Hasn’t the government watered down the bill?

Yes, after protests in March. For instance, a proposed limit on severance pay was cut. That’s why some major unions support the legislation in its current form (more on that later). One controversial element remains: a provision that would allow companies to ignore sector labor agreements (say, an accord that applies to all auto workers). Instead, they could negotiate contracts directly with their own employees. In addition, the bill would lower the minimum extra pay workers receive for working overtime.

While the ability to negotiate deals at the company level was a key part of the German labor reforms of the early 2000s, many employees in France could face lower earnings if the bill becomes law.

I can see how unions wouldn’t like that

Indeed, the CGT union, by some measures France’s largest and the leader of the protests, wants the bill scrapped entirely. It’s backed by Force Ouvriere, the third-largest.

Not all are opposed. The CFDT, France’s largest union by membership (but second to the CGT in elected company representatives), supports the bill in its current form. So does the CFE-CGC, which mostly represents white-collar workers.

It’s not just about the provisions of the law. Valls and his economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, have angered some segments of public opinion, and even some of their party’s own members, with their handling of the bill. The measure was presented earlier this year without any negotiations with unions, and with little explanation. Then when faced with a potentially rowdy parliamentary debate, the premier pushed it through by decree. The measure will be debated in the Senate starting June 13, and Valls has said repeatedly that he won’t consider withdrawing the law.

Don’t governments always give in to France’s unions?

Less and less. And that’s one reason the CGT is digging in its heels. A similar wave of strikes and gas shortages in 2010 failed to stop the government from raising the retirement age by two years. And strikes in 2014 failed to stop a reorganization of the national railroad. “The CGT wants to mark out its territory — they need to show their followers they can be winners,” said Claude Didry, a researcher at Ecole Normale Superieure of Cachan near Paris who just published a book called “The Institution of Work: a History of Labor Law.”

Even though they still play a key role in negotiating labor contracts in France, unions have never been weaker. Only about eight percent of French workers belong to one, compared with 11 percent in the U.S. and 18 percent in Germany, according to the OECD. The CGT, which grew out of the French Communist Party, had 4 million members in 1948 and has 700,000 now.

How does the French public feel?

France has a long tradition of supporting, or at least tolerating, public protests. According to a May 29 Ifop poll for Journal du Dimanche, 46 percent of respondents want the law withdrawn, 40 percent want it modified and only 13 percent want it to pass in its current form. In a poll for Le Parisien newspaper by Odoxa, 61 percent of those answering said the government was responsible for the escalating nature of the strikes, while 37 percent said it was “the irresponsibility of radical unions.” Two-thirds said the government had handled the situation badly.

How’s the French economy coping?

The strikes come just as output is showing some signs of life — jobless claims have fallen for two consecutive months to their lowest in more than a year — and Valls has warned the protests could derail the recovery. Business organizations issued a joint statement last week saying the fuel shortages were harming growth. An association that represents small- and medium-sized companies last week said 58 percent of its members were having trouble making deliveries and 47 percent had difficulty getting supplied.

Still, economists say the impact of the strike on growth will probably be minimal. Larger businesses have the capacity to mute their effect, and lost output can be made up later. Police last week broke up blockades at fuel depots and the government dipped intostrategic reserves, improving supply at gas stations. The general strike of 1995, which lasted about a month and was much more widely supported than the current action, wiped about 0.05 percentage point off of annual growth that year.

So how will all this end? What does it mean for France?

Hollande has supported his prime minister, saying that one union can’t make the law. Valls did say in interviews over the weekend that he was open to “modifications” and “improvements,” as long as companies remained able to negotiate their own contracts. Valls “will soften the labor bill to prevent strikes from spreading to other unions” but “these modifications are unlikely to alter the ‘philosophy’ of this already heavily diluted bill,” Eurasia Group said in a note to clients. The Journal du Dimanche newspaper said the government might make concessions on unrelated labor disputes, such as at the national railroads, to undermine union opposition to the labor law.

One factor working in the government’s favor: French strikes aren’t as fearsome as they once were. Thanks to declining union membership and a 2007 law requiring minimum service for public transport, recent work stoppages have caused nuisances for commuters without bringing transport to a standstill.

A British vote to leave the E.U. could shatter the United Kingdom

Washington Post

Griff Witte – May 30th
[Original Article]

 When Scotland voted in an independence referendum in September 2014, nationalist leaders pitched it as a once-in-a-generation chance to break a three-
century-old bond.

But less than two years after Scots opted to remain in the United Kingdom, the specter of secession again looms over the lush green expanse of the British isles. The trigger this time is another referendum with existential impact: next month’s vote on whether to leave the European Union.

If Britain chooses to ditch the E.U. despite a vote to stay from the Euro-friendly Scots, nationalist leaders here say they will revive the push for an independent nation in order to keep Scotland inside Europe. And they think that the second time around, they would win.

“Pulling Scotland out of the European Union against our will would be a change in material circumstances,” said Alex Sal­mond, who led the campaign for independence in 2014 and now represents Scotland in the British Parliament.

In Peterborough, 45-minutes north of London, anti-E.U. sentiment runs strong. A large part of the discontent is the mass influx of Eastern European immigrants that residents say has transformed the ancient market town. 

In that scenario, he said, there will be “a referendum on Scottish independence within the next two years. And this time, the result would be ‘yes.’ ”

The potential for a British breakup as fallout from the June 23 referendum underscores just how much is at stake when the country decides whether to become the first nation to withdraw from the 28-member E.U.

A shock to the global economy, a rupture in the Western alliance and a change in occupancy at 10 Downing Street are all possible consequences of a British vote to leave — popularly known as “Brexit.”

The very existence of Great Britain could also be on the line.

British Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly offered the public a direct say over the country’s E.U. membership for much the same reason he acceded to the Scottish call for an independence vote in 2014: He thought it was the only way to settle the fundamental questions at the heart of British identity. Is the United Kingdom part of Europe or not? Is it one nation or more?

But the potential for a British exit from the E.U. to reawaken the push for Scottish independence reflects just how much Cameron’s strategy may have backfired. Instead of laying the issues to rest, critics say, he may have unleashed the age of the “neverendum” — a prolonged period of turbulence that does not stop until the public votes to take Britain out of Europe and split Scotland from the United Kingdom.

“In order to put these questions to bed for a generation, you need a vote of 60-40,” said Menzies Campbell, a veteran Scottish member of Parliament who supports keeping Scotland in Britain and Britain in the E.U. “If the losing side gets 45 [percent], they’re not going to give up.”

That was what pro-independence Scots won in the 2014 vote. Since then, their side has delivered a pair of electoral thumpings: The Scottish National Party won by huge margins in both the 2015 British parliamentary elections and in the Scottish parliamentary contests this month, suggesting that the appetite for independence has hardly ebbed. Opinion polls show that Scotland would be about evenly divided if the independence vote were re-run today.

If Britain chooses to leave the E.U. next month — despite Scottish objections — that could tilt the balance in the nationalists’ favor, reinforcing divisions between north and south.

The visceral anti-E.U. sentiment that runs through English politics can hardly be found north of Hadrian’s Wall, the ancient stone fortification that bisected Britain during Roman times. Polls show a decisive advantage for the “in” campaign in Scotland, while England flirts with “out.”

The reasons for the difference are both historical and contemporary. Scotland has long had a close affiliation with continental Europe, going so far as to side with the French in wars against the English. As citizens of a small nation, Scots see membership in a broader European community as a comfort; the English are more likely to see rival power centers on the continent as a threat.

“There’s an emotional connection between Scotland and Europe,” Campbell said. “We’ve never had the residual antagonism toward Europe that has been maintained in England.”

But perhaps the most important reason for the split in opinion is immigration.

In crowded England — which makes up nearly 85 percent of the U.K. population but only about half the land — many people regard arrivals from elsewhere in Europe under the E.U.’s free-movement rules as an unwelcome burden. In sparsely populated Scotland — the entire population of 5 million is roughly equal to the inner boroughs of London — there is plenty of room for newcomers.

“Scotland is not full up,” Salmond said. “We’re much more like America of 100 years ago than the England of today.”

Scotland is not the only place in the United Kingdom where next month’s referendum threatens to bring politically destabilizing consequences. Welsh leaders, who tend to be pro-E.U., have said a British vote to abandon the union could spark a constitutional crisis. In Northern Ireland, where a tenuous peace has held for nearly two decades, a vote to leave would add a new line of partition to the Emerald Isle, with the Republic of Ireland inside the E.U. and the counties of Northern Ireland outside it.

Analysts have warned that such division could hinder the economy, prompt renewed border controls and revive dangerous levels of sectarianism.

In an echo of the nationalist push in Scotland, Catholic leaders in the generally pro-European north say that if Britain opts to leave the E.U., there should be a referendum on the reunification of Ireland.

Surveys suggest that Protestant voters would block any such move and keep Northern Ireland inside the United Kingdom. The polls in Scotland are far less clear, but the determination of nationalists to hold another referendum is not.

“The nationalists will use any justification to call another vote,” said Ross Thomson, a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament who is among the few elected officials in Scotland campaigning for Brexit. “It doesn’t have to be the E.U. They’ll just do it when the polls look good.”

Other Brexit advocates who favor keeping Scotland inside the U.K. say they do not think the E.U. matters enough to Scottish voters to make a difference in an independence vote.

“It’s very soft support,” said Robert Malyn, a pro-Brexit campaigner who was handing out fliers one recent afternoon at the central train station in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. “The E.U. is not loved enough to be a red line.”

The lack of enthusiasm is reflected in the difference between this campaign and the one in 2014. During the run-up to the independence vote, all of Scotland — from the Gothic back alleys of Edinburgh to the remote valleys of the Highlands — seemed bathed in the dueling paraphernalia of the “no” and “yes” camps. Signs hung from storefronts, buttons peeked out from jacket lapels, and fierce debates erupted nightly in pubs and across dinner tables.

This time, there is virtually no visible evidence that in less than a month, Scotland — and the United Kingdom — will be making such a consequential choice.

“The E.U. is such a big institution, and it seems far away from everybody. It’s a hard thing to get your head around,” said Jonny Ross-Tatam, president of the students association at the University of Edinburgh.

Still, Ross-Tatam has been making the case among his fellow students for why it matters to stay in the E.U. If Britain leaves, he said, research funding would be jeopardized and students could lose their ability to live, work and study across the continent.

“We can go to Sweden, Germany or France and not pay anything in tuition,” he said. “This vote is one of the biggest decisions that our generation is going to have to make.”

That is what campaigners on both sides told Scots in the lead-up to the 2014 referendum. But these days, such monumental decisions are coming often — and there could be another one looming.

Indeed, Salmond said that a second independence referendum will be held sooner or later, regardless of which way Britain votes next month.

“Independence is inevitable,” he said. “We’re just debating time scale now.”

Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.