Geoffrey Howe, who died on Friday, will live on in history as the man who helped bring down Margaret Thatcher with a cricketing metaphor.

In his November 1990 resignation speech, the former Chancellor likened her treatment of Cabinet colleagues involved in European negotiations to a cricket captain who sends his team to the crease having first broken their bats in the changing room.

Just weeks later the Iron Lady was gone. And not withstanding David Cameron’s majority election victory earlier this year, it might be argued the Conservative Party has never quite recovered.

For Europe is an issue the Prime Minister can only hope to manage rather than resolve. In early 2013 I watched him announce his intention to hold an in/out referendum on the UK’s relationship with Brussels; this he hoped would shoot Nigel Farage’s fox and keep his party united.

Of course it didn’t work out like that. Indeed, the concession of a referendum (as in the case of Scotland almost exactly a year before) got Mr Cameron through a difficult period but no more than that. Meanwhile that loaded term “renegotiation” – after all the basis of this whole exercise – has slipped off the radar.

Today the “In” campaign will formally launch in London. Chaired by the former Marks & Spencer chief executive Lord Rose, “Britain Stronger in Europe” (BSiE) will also be supported by a board including the former Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander.

“The choice in the coming referendum is between remaining stronger, safer and better off inside Europe,” Lord Rose remarked on Saturday, “or taking a leap into the unknown, risking our prosperity, threatening our safety, and diminishing our influence in the world.”

The similarity between this rhetoric and that of Better Together is striking, but then the arguments in favour of both Unions are logical enough. The risk BSiE runs is also familiar, that a cast list of the great and the good will end up appearing to tell voters what’s good for them.

Modern British politics, after all, has been persistently unkind to both incumbent politicians and status-quo options. Given that remaining part of the EU is clearly the desired outcome of the Establishment, then voters unhappy with Establishment politics – on the right and left – will have the opportunity to stick up two fingers by opting for “Out”.

Unlike Yes Scotland, however, “Vote Leave”, which launched late last week, won’t have the luxury of a unified campaign. Yesterday the Ukip leader Nigel Farage attempted to play down splits by saying his alternative Leave UK group would complement Vote Leave rather than contradict it.

It was also interesting to hear businessman John Mills’ rationale for leaving the EU. The former Labour donor painted a picture of a different relationship between London and Brussels rather than complete independence. “If we vote to leave the EU we will be able to trade freely with the EU and have friendly co-operation,” he said. “The UK will regain legal control of things like trade, tax, economic regulation and energy.”

Again, this sort of argument sounds awfully familiar, yet those (ie the SNP) who made similar points about an independent Scotland’s relationship with the UK now reject that logic and instead argue a UK outside the EU will suffer a loss of international clout, trading advantages and access to opportunities in the rest of the EU.

This irony struck me as I watched the Scottish Government’s External Affairs Minister defend the proposition that “the UK should remain within the European Union” at the Glasgow University Union a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, the intellectual confusion perhaps contributed to a memorable slip from Fiona Hyslop, who at one point said Scotland had “to stay in the UK, er, Europe” to maintain international influence.

Summing up for the “In” side later in the Charles Kennedy Memorial Debate, the former Better Together chief Alistair Darling caustically remarked that hearing that had been worth his rail fare from Edinburgh.
But it appears unlikely such collegiality will extend beyond the GUU, Nicola Sturgeon having repeatedly made it clear she doesn’t intend to share platforms with Conservatives, Labourites and Liberal Democrats in her bid to ensure Scotland (as part of the UK) remains in the EU. Having long condemned Scottish Labour for being in “cahoots” with “the Tories”, the First Minister recognises the pitfalls in suspending tribalism, whatever the common cause.

Yesterday Ms Sturgeon reiterated a now familiar argument to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, that if a “scenario” developed in which a majority of Scots voted “In” while a majority of Brits backed “Out” then “rising demand for another [independence] referendum” would perhaps become “unstoppable”. On that point the First Minister is correct, such a scenario being the most credible of several mooted “triggers” for an indyref2. I’ve even spoken to senior Conservatives who say they’d likely vote “Yes” under such circumstances.

A while ago in this column I rashly predicted that such a scenario was extremely unlikely, but now I’m not so sure. The SNP recently highlighted polling data demonstrating only 18 per cent of Scots would actually vote to leave the EU, while an average of seven polls since the beginning of last month found a 50/50 split across the UK as a whole. Although Euroscepticism is by no means a minority pursuit north of the Border, the potential for a differential result in 2016 or 2017 is clear.

Think back to this point in the Scottish referendum campaign and the “No” camp had at least a 20-point lead, with Yes only edging ahead shortly before polling day. The European race, by contrast, is neck and neck from the start: all the two “Out” campaigns need is a fair wind and complacency from their opponents to achieve a UK-wide lead.

Here’s another scenario. What if the UK as a whole narrowly votes to remain part of Europe but does so clearly on the basis of disproportionately “In” votes from Scotland? If exploited by Ukip et al the consequential resentment south of the border would make concerns about Evel look small beer.

The “Out” brigade, meanwhile, has only slowly woken up to the fact that if successful its victory might end up consolidating support for independence in Scotland, perhaps giving the SNP the 60/40 split in favour it privately regards as necessary to proceed. Some may not lose any sleep over this prospect, for British Euroscepticism has long rested upon a strong Little Englander mentality. But if this scenario comes to pass, cricketing metaphors won’t quite do it justice.