The referendum campaign on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union finally ends on Thursday. Even before recent dreadful events, it was unquestionably a dark, confusing and ultimately demeaning contest. It has been conducted with a degree of rancour and ugliness, especially in the ranks of the Conservative Party and Ukip, that few thought possible in modern politics. Instead of calm and rational debate, voters have been bombarded with conflicting versions of Project Fear: either economic apocalypse if we leave the EU or an “invasion” of Turkish and other immigrants if we remain. Project Fear even morphed into Project Terror with some on the Leave side raising the spectre of an “Orlando-style atrocity” in the UK by Islamic State. Many have been tempted to say: a plague on both your houses. Politics is surely better than this.

The Scottish independence referendum was, by comparison, a genuinely elevated and inspiring contest, a celebration of democracy. The Scottish Government White Paper on independence was much criticised – not least for its length at 670 pages – but it was a sincere attempt to answer the many questions raised by the prospect of leaving the UK. There has been nothing comparable from either side in the EU debate – just bogus statistics, punishment Budgets, vitriol, threats, and, of course, racial dog whistles. Scotland’s referendum inspired artists and writers from a wide range of backgrounds to envision a better nation. Even No voters agreed that it was politics at its very best. The Brexit vote has inspired nothing but negativity, insularity and a mean-minded materialism.

But at the end of this dismal and chilling contest we have a very important decision to make. We must try somehow to cast aside the hyperbole and look at the practicalities. Whether we like it or not, we are part of this economic bloc called the European Union and Scotland’s economy has undoubtedly benefited from the EU connection in the past. Many international companies have come to Scotland to serve the European market. Scotland has benefited from free trade with the 500 million-strong market.

More importantly, though, the European Union has been a force for peace in the world and has broken down the borders and narrow nationalisms that led to so much conflict in the 20th century. Three generations of Britons have not had to fight and die in European wars since 1945. That alone is a price worth the entry to the EU. We need only look at Ukraine today and the situation in the Balkan states when the former Yugoslavia collapsed into ethnic warfare to see what Europe might have been like without European integration. If Britain leaves on Thursday it will not mean another war, as David Cameron recklessly forecast. But it could certainly lead to a great deal of instability in Europe at a time when it is wrestling with the refugee crisis and the financial troubles of the eurozone. Importantly, however, without Britain as part of the European club of nations, no-one can predict what the future may hold in terms of peace and stability on the continent.

There is truth in the claim that the European Union as we see it today is a 
collection of corporate-friendly institutions with dubious democratic credentials. The Brussels bureaucracy is in dire need of reform. Europe should be a representative democracy which works for the people, not a businessmen’s club. Recent economic policies, defined by fiscal conservatives in the European Central Bank, have been a disaster. Millions are without work in the midst of an entirely avoidable 1930s-style economic depression. 
The steamrollering of Greece was a piece of brutal bullying. However, it would be naive to believe that the situation would be improved in any way at all were the United Kingdom to leave the EU.

A British withdrawal would leave the UK unable to change what is wrong with the EU – to reform it from a progressive position. A British withdrawal would also cast the people of these islands into the hands of a rapacious and ideologically turbo-charged Tory hard right. Outside the EU, the Tories would shred the key benefits of Europe to the British people: workers’ rights.
The talk of a right-wing Tory takeover after Brexit is somewhat misguided – because the takeover has already happened. We are being governed by the most right-wing Westminster Conservative administration in modern times, with George Osborne imposing draconian welfare cuts. But it seems inconceivable that the political climate in the UK would improve if the Brexiteers like Nigel Farage were to get their way, and Britain were to break off, erect borders against our European friends and allies, and seek a future as a neoliberal deregulated free-trade zone – a kind of Hong Kong off the Europe mainland.

The most disturbing feature of this campaign, though, has been the centrality of immigration. Even many Labour voters have been wooed by this increasingly ugly mantra. They are no longer prepared to listen to Labour’s positive message on the value of foreign workers to the NHS. Unfortunately, instead of redoubling its efforts, some elements of the Labour movement seem to be undergoing a death bed conversion to the policies of Ukip, with prominent figures like the former shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, and the Labour deputy leader, Tom Watson, calling for an end to free movement in Europe.

This should be profoundly disturbing to Scotland. The truth is we need immigrants because our population is ageing and we need their tax revenues, but also because they encourage cultural and economic dynamism. Scotland is a nation of emigrants – the Scottish diaspora populated a large part of the planet – so we know the value of cross migration between nations. Scotland does not want to be part of a fortress Britain, a septic isle in which thinly-disguised racial antagonisms dominate domestic politics.

For in the end it is the Brexit threats and fearmongering which are the most bogus. Immigration will not stop just because Britain leaves the EU. Half of the migrants who come to Britain come from elsewhere in the world – not Europe – and the UK economy will still need the valuable skills and industry of workers from Europe. You cannot build a wall against the world. That is why we urge readers to keep their nerve, rise above the fear and hatred, and vote to remain in the European Union for a better Scotland and a better world.