September 22, 2014
|Staying or leaving?|
If David Cameron wins the May election he has promised an In/Out EU referendum by 2017. Even if he does not it is still probable there will be one at some point. National referendums are rare in the UK so with the Scottish vote we have a rare glimpse of what the EU referendum campaigns could look like. What should the nascent In/Out camps take away from it?
In trying to understand the motivations of the Scottish voters Lord Ashcroft’s poll, conducted after the vote, sheds some interesting light. Voters made up their minds late in the day – 52% of voters made their mind up this year with 18% in the last month. The main issues driving independence voters were disaffection from Westminster and concerns about the NHS. Uncertainties over the pound and pensions drove the No side. 70% of Yes voters said they agreed with “The principle that all decisions about Scotland should be taken in Scotland” while No voters also felt the risks of independence were to great and conflicted with their attachment to the UK.
So are these findings and the Yes/No campaign relevant to a UK referendum on EU membership? here are some key issues:
|The need for a clearly thought out alternative to the status quo
||The Scottish ‘Yes’ campaign came unstuck on some key elements of their proposition. Notably confusion over the £ and EU membership. The difficulty ‘Yes’ had with these key policies dogged their campaign
||The nascent EU ‘Out’ campaign has a similar problem as there is no settled view. What relationship will the UK have with the EU after exit? Will it be the EEA, a new free trade agreement, what will access to the Single Market be etc and what are the political trade-offs.
||The ‘Yes’ campaign was good at harnessing the ‘future’ and ‘change’ as a campaign weapon. The ‘No’ side failed to put forward a comparable future vision for the UK focusing instead on the risks of independence leading them to be portrayed as ‘negative’.
||It will be difficult for the ‘In’ campaign to portray an optimistic vision of an EU future, given the likelihood of ongoing problems in the Eurozone – it will probably stick to pointing out what it sees as the risks of leaving.
It remains unclear whether the ‘Out’ campaign will be able to manage to transform itself from campaigning against the EU’s negative record to wholeheartedly putting forward its own positive vision.
|Who leads the campaigns matters – can they claim to be the anti-establishment?
||In Scotland the ‘Yes’ campaign was united, had message discipline and was led by the First Minister of Scotland. This gave it the credibility of office and the ability to set the scene while remaining an outsider/underdog in relation to Westminster at the same time.
By contrast the ‘No’ campaign was cross-party, divided and although ‘backed’ by the UK government was simultaneously seen as ‘the Establishment’ while being in opposition in Scotland.
|It is unclear who the ‘In’ and ‘Out campaigns will be led by. However, on the basis that David Cameron is content with his renegotiation, the ‘In’ will have the advantage of the head of government and all the main party leaders.This could leave the ‘Out’ campaign run by UKIP and a number of backbench MPs.
Although the ‘Out’ side would have the advantage of being ‘anti-establishment’ there would be a large imbalance in credibility and official resources that could tell in the campaign.
|Foreign interventions helpful /
|The ‘Yes’ campaign had to endure a series of interventions against them from UK allies and others including the USA, Australia, Germany, Spain, NATO and the EU.
||While foreign interventions in the EU referendum are inevitable some will be more effective than others. While UKIP will not lose any sleep over an admonition by Mr Juncker, Germany or France, they may suffer some damage if Commonwealth allies or the US express a desire for the UK to stay in the EU.
|Business interventions – do they matter?
||‘Yes’ had to put up with major Scottish and UK companies threatening to relocate out of Scotland in the event of independence. To counter it Yes managed to organise some pro-independence business voices but the overwhelming balance of the warnings weighed on the campaign.
||‘Out’ like ‘Yes’ is likely to have to endure a slew of major companies questioning the case for exit, particularly larger businesses. This too will be countered by pro-exit business voices. Without the currency issue to worry about, the business question will be about what market access the UK would have to the single market (see alternative to the status quo section above).
|Emotional appeal of staying / leaving?
||While ‘Yes’ managed to mobilise significant emotional appeal for independence the residual emotional appeal of the United Kingdom was also considerable.
||The emotional appeal of the EU institutions in the UK is close to zero. While it is clear that the emotional desire to leave the EU is felt strongly by confirmed ‘Outists’, it is less clear what role political identity will play among the undecideds.
|Devo Max / EU Devo Max – key to the middle ground voter?
||While the campaign started as a polarised Yes/No campaign it quickly switched in the last week into a No+Devo Max v. separation. This managed to win over some of the wavering middle ground to No. For that to work the credibility of the offer being delivered was key.
||The In/Out campaign will start from the basis that ‘EU Devo-Max’ has either been achieved or has failed. This will have a huge repercussion on the campaign. If the negotiation is still on-going and is in the form of a last minute ‘EU Vow’ it is unlikely the credibility of those offering it will be enough to swing the result.
|Turnout and the undecided voters – Age groups voting
||The Yes/No campaign had a very high turnout and a high level of voters who made their mind up in the last month.
Older people tended to support the UK and younger people independence. As turnout was universally high the normal higher turnout among older voters probably did not tell.
|An In/Out referendum is likely to have a lower turnout and a higher level of undecideds, making the last month and weeks of the campaign key.
Older voters are more likely to vote for ‘Out’ and younger for ‘In’. However, with a lower turnout older voters are more likely to make their voice heard.
|Wild card issues
||The Yes/No campaign spent a lot of time discussing the supposed ‘privatisation’ of the NHS – a policy area already devolved to Edinburgh.
||Immigration aside, the dry nature of EU policy could mean the In/Out campaign comes to focus on unpredictable issues.
|Rogue polls – who might they help?
||The close nature of the polls probably drove turnout and drove ‘shy unionists’ who may have taken the result for granted to vote.
Polling is also very likely to be a large driver of the ‘In’ / ‘Out’ campaigns but it is unclear who this might benefit.