THE long-awaited Cabinet split over Europe finally happened last week. Chris Grayling, the Tory Leader of the House, announced that it would be a “disaster” for Britain to stay in the European Union under present terms. But the earth didn't exactly stop spinning.

So far, none of the “big beasts” of the UK Cabinet – London Mayor Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Teresa May, or the former Education Secretary Michael Gove – have shown much eagerness to join. One suspects they don’t want to back a loser.

David Cameron isn't purring yet, but he is certainly looking very self-satisfied. Believing that the anti-Europeans are on the run in his government, he has decreed that they are not allowed to express their dissent in Parliament. He has also said that the civil service is not allowed to be independent on this issue and has to support the position of the Government – ie him.

Of course, the Cabinet beasts may change their minds after we see the substance of the Prime Minister’s renegotiation of Britain's membership next month. Even if he gets his way on restricting the access of EU migrant workers to benefits, it will not satisfy anti-Europeans – who are a majority on the Tory backbench, according to an assessment by the Tory whips' office.

In the country, the Tory Party membership is even more hostile to remaining in Europe: around 70 per cent want out. Anti-Brussels sentiment runs deep in Middle England and it has become a defining issue for many Conservatives. This goes beyond economics and reaches deep into the hearts of Tory voters who resent immigration and feel their national identity, even their freedom, is under assault.

The PM needs to watch this very carefully because there is the potential for a grassroots uprising here if he appears to be skewing the pitch too much in favour of remaining in Europe. Already there are mutterings about an unfair contest, a “rigged referendum” – much as there was during he indyref two years ago.

And as we know, the Scottish referendum was a close-run thing. Better Together began with a huge lead of 70 per cent/30 per cent, which dwindled on the eve of poll to something closer to 52 per cent/48 per cent. Only a last-minute blitz by the press, BBC and all the UK party leaders held the line. A similar shift in attitudes during this campaign could easily happen – and it doesn’t need that much of a shift.

The Inners and Outers are currently neck and neck in England and the anti-Europeans may even start the campaign in a lead. And this time, large sections of the UK media could well swing against remaining in Europe. It all depends on whether the editors of the Sun think there is a chance of a vote to leave – in which case they will very likely try to lead it. That could change things dramatically.

Nicola Sturgeon needs to watch her back also. According to one poll in YouGov, some 27 per cent of SNP voters already oppose membership of Europe. Many of the arguments being used by the pro-Europeans like David Cameron have distinct echoes of the arguments used against Scottish independence. Essentially, we are seeing a rerun of Project Fear.

Big businesses are being lined up to warn of the economic risks of leaving the EU. There are renewed strains in the financial system, we’re told, and Brexit might lead to another financial crash. All we need now is for someone to say that Britain leaving Europe would lead to a second Great Depression and prevent a cure for cancer and the picture would be complete.

Does it matter? I think it does. Nicola Sturgeon is not going to share a platform with the Tory PM, but she will essentially be endorsing the views of David Cameron, Tony Blair, big business and other elite groups who showed great hostility to Scottish independence. And on much the same grounds: that the economy might be damaged by “going it alone”.

The Scottish pro-Europe campaign, Stronger In Europe – which the SNP will support – is even being led by the co-ordinator of the Better Together campaign, the former Labour MP Frank Roy. This is going to look and sound distinctly odd – as if the sides have been rearranged in a referendum version of The Apprentice.

In Scotland, support for staying in Europe seems solid, with opinion polls showing a large lead for Stronger In Europe. But this is not all it appears. Many SNP members are at best ambivalent about Europe, and always have been. The SNP has only become a pro-European party in the relatively recent past. For most of its life it has been opposed to Europe on much the same grounds it is opposed to the UK: that it limits Scottish sovereignty.

Many on the indyref left, like Cat Boyd of Rise, are actively hostile to the EU, though they say they may reluctantly vote to remain in. This has a lot to do with the fact that the EU – as presently constituted – is essentially a bankers club which has been imposing austerity on countries like Greece. Athens has been forced effectively to hand over economic sovereignty to Brussels. Its annual budget has to be agreed by the European Central Bank and the IMF and the Greek leftwing government of Syriza has had to abandon most of the policies on which it was elected.

The truth is that Europe is not a democracy. It is dominated by a financial elite which is promoting policies that are contrary to must of what the SNP stands for right now – national autonomy and social democracy. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), for example, could endanger the future of public services. European competition law prevents the Scottish Government supporting the stricken steel industry. Agricultural support is not what it was and the fishing community – what's left of it – loathes the EU and blames it for destroying its industry.

During the referendum, the EU President, Jose Manuel Barroso, made clear that the EU would not look favourably on an independent Scotland joining Europe. He said that Scots would have to go to the end of the queue, and renegotiate entry as a “new state” even though Scotland has been subject to EU law for a quarter-century. This is volatile stuff. The SNP may be right to argue that, on balance, Scotland is better off remaining in Europe, but it needs to argue the case. Is Scotland really better off in a union that doesn't want us as a member, the EU, than in a union that does, the UK? This is a central question.

My own feelings on Europe are mixed. I accept that, at the present time, leaving Europe could involve economic difficulties – but that applied also to leaving the UK. No-one was naïve enough to believe that becoming independent would involve no short-term cost, but many believed that the cost would be worth it to create that “better nation”.

I am emotionally resistant to the idea of erecting borders and cutting Britain off from the EU. But voting Yes in the referendum on Scottish independence carried at least the risk of erecting borders too. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said that he would set up border posts at Gretna if Scotland voted for independence. It may have been an empty threat, but it was a threat nevertheless.

The Scottish Government cannot afford to ride on the back of a campaign led by the very Conservative Prime Minister whose reaction to the independence referendum was English Votes for English Laws. There is no easy way to handle this campaign. The SNP needs to find something stronger to say on Europe than that we should stay in just because Ukip’s Nigel Farage want to leave.