One thing we often hear these days from the commentariat is how “Project Fear” – trying to win a referendum by scaring the voting public into going the way you’d like them to – failed in Scotland and is failing in the EU referendum. Whether this strategy is actually deficient in regards to the current referendum debate is a matter of opinion until June 23rd. However, the idea that Project Fear failed in Scotland is a false one, disproved by evidence.
I realise it can be easy for some to forget, given the unprecedented rise of the SNP since September 18, 2014, but the unionists won that referendum. And it wasn’t even particularly close either, with Better Together beating the nationalist by a 10-point margin. A big reason for this was uncertainty in Scotland around the currency, the Scottish economy sans Barnett, around EU membership. In other words, victory had everything to do with all of the things that Project Fear was based upon in that debate.
There is talk among both pro-EU and Brexiteer members of the press that the In campaign is failing; that the Leave campaign is making up ground. There is little in the way of facts to suggest this. One of the things we’re hearing a lot of these days is “differential turnout”. To explain this briefly: the idea is that not many people will vote and the ones that do will be the people hungriest for change. However, past behaviour suggests this is bollocks. On the AV campaign, we put a lot of hope into differential turnout; we had long conversations about how turnout would be about 20%, and that all the oldies who didn’t like the idea of change would stay home while our humus munching supporters would flock to the polls in droves.
I shouldn’t need to tell you how that worked, but let me briefly recap: turnout was 42%. Lots of people turned up to vote for the status quo. This is what happens during referenda. Fear works in Britain. If you don’t believe me, take a look again at the 2015 general election result and then tell me again that Project Fear never works.
I’m not saying pro-EU campaigners can sit back and wait for the inevitable. The run in needs to be good for the Stay In side. But it has the prime minister and the business community and the entire international community on its side. And the only thing that really matters in a referendum – as I have discovered from first hand experience – is the final month leading in to polling day.