WHAT kind of Europe do we want to belong to? Do we want to belong at all? Much is at stake ahead of Thursday’s referendum on EU membership, for those who will vote and for future generations, on the vital matters that shape our lives: prosperity, stability and social wellbeing among them.

One fact at least has become clear amidst the anger, fog of statistics, claims and counter-claims of the campaign: there is no great love for the EU in its present form, even among those who will vote Remain. The reasons are clear. In 1973 the UK joined the-then European Economic Community free trade zone. More than 40 years later it has morphed into a much bigger, more political, more centralised, organisation with a vast army of well-paid but little-liked bureaucrats. With its growth has come the disaster of the euro, a burning building with no exit that has beggared many member states. Add the farce of the European Parliament’s exorbitantly expensive shifting between Brussels and Strasbourg, the damning fact that auditors annually fail to sign off the accounts and the failure to deal adequately with the migrant crisis give cause for complaint.

The Leave campaign has sought to make the most of a scepticism towards the EU, focusing on migration. Quit the EU, it says, and we will be able to better control the number of migrants and cream off the best to stay. In some areas that argument resonates, particularly in parts of England where immigration has put public services under pressure. But Leave’s arguments do not stand up. First, the mantra that “we are different” does not reflect Scotland’s historical place in Europe, nor the reality of thousands of Scots living and working in Europe. Of all the UK nations, Scotland is most in favour of remaining in the EU, in some part because migration has brought more benefits than caused pressures. The notion that the UK could leave the EU, clamp down on migration and retain preferential access to EU markets is one of Leave’s flagrant works of fantasy.

The arguments on migration have driven much of the debate and no one should simply dismiss those who are concerned about immigration as racist or ignorant. If there is a vote to remain, the subject should be up for discussion as part of a wider focus on reform of the EU. It is clear the British electorate wants further reform and greater transparency. Change is not only possible; it is probable. Work in progress in the UK is proof that radical constitutional change can happen as a referendum consequential. Leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson has suggested a vote to Leave could be used as a bargaining tool to win more reform but are we willing to play such a dangerous game of bluff?

Brexiteers claim leaving would be good for business and free us up to trade more freely with the rest of the world. But membership of the EU is good for the Scottish economy; at least 300,000 jobs are directly linked to our exports there. Membership has been good for the UK, with the economy growing by 38 per cent in real terms since 1998; faster than Canada and the US.

The idea that, post-Brexit, the UK could negotiate a good deal, with the EU leaving us with all the benefits and none of the downsides, is also a fallacy. If we leave, the EU will demand a deal that is as tough as possible to discourage other states. There are precedents for a different relationship with the EU, with Norwegian-style membership of the European Economic Area particularly popular. But that would leave us with no say over the regulations by which we would be bound. The Leave campaign’s claims on the cost of the EU need to be treated with caution. The premise that it is a horrendous financial burden is also false; the net fiscal cost is 0.5 per cent of GDP. There would also be a cost in taking that money back, crucially in preferential access to the EU market. We take much for granted. For instance, we travel to Europe every year for leisure or work. What would Brexiteers do if they fell ill or had an accident in Europe after quitting the EU? Phoning home on a mobile will be more costly as only EU member states will benefit from the abolition of roaming charges.

The UK could function outside the EU, although a Brexit against the wishes of the Scottish electorate would, as Nicola Sturgeon says with some justification, put an independence referendum back on the table. Looking beyond these isles, we should remember that the EU was founded as a project for peace after war. It is based on a progressive idea that a modern liberal democracy should be part of a multilateral world built on the rule of law. Yes, the EU is flawed and it needs reform. But it is better to be in than out, to reform and re-energise from within so that, together, we can meet the challenges that lie ahead in partnership with the other members of this force for stability, peace and security. Scotland’s and the UK’s best interests are served by voting Remain.