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The negotiations are under way, the campaigns on either side are forming and the countdown has begun. The much anticipated EU referendum is fast approaching, but what will it take for both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ campaigns to win over the British public?
Currently both sides of the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ debate have focused on fear to try and win over voters to their causes. This tactic is doomed to failure. The 2011 Alternative Vote referendum highlighted the failure of those in favour of the change in electoral system to adequately show how change would be better than the current First Past the Post System. Likewise, the Scottish Referendum in 2014 demonstrated that voters are reluctant to embrace change unless a secure and positive future is guaranteed and the loss of the Yes campaign is largely due to its failure to reassure Scottish voters over issues such as currency and an oil dependent economy. The first side to realise this trend and embrace the optimism of the future over pessimistic fear-mongering will reign victorious as the ballots are counted.
Unfortunately for those wishing to leave the EU, the current ‘Out’ campaign focuses’ on the problems with the EU’s free movement of people and portrays immigration as a plague sweeping across Western Europe from countries such as Poland and Romania. This attack on the EU, at times xenophobic in its language against those seeking a better life, succeeds in spreading fear within society and divides communities, gaining some votes as a result. The problem with this tactic is that it turns off more moderate swing voters. These swing voters hold the key to the referendums outcome and must be won over if Britain is to leave the EU. The ‘Out’ campaign is fixed on negativity predicting disaster should Britain remain in the EU. They suggest that continued membership of the EU will lead to mass immigration and the destruction of public services, an imposed EU flag, anthem, army and European super state which will lead to the eradication of British culture and tear apart the fabric of society like some sort of cross channel Jacobin pillaging spree. To prevail in the upcoming referendum the ‘Out’ campaign must focus on a future without the EU, a future in which parliamentary sovereignty is restored and trade expanded due to the removal of EU regulations and abandon the fear-mongering on immigration which now dominates its campaign.
On the other side of the debate, the ‘In’ campaign spreads fear of a different kind – economic fear. The ‘In’ campaign warns that if the UK leaves the EU then unemployment will soar, jobs will vanish, businesses will move abroad, the skies will darken, the horsemen will appear and the ground will open up, plunging the nation into the eternal abyss of economic depression. This fear mongering like that of the ‘Out’ campaign succeeds in winning over some of the population but when it comes to the all-important centre ground, voters will require far more than economic threats in order to vote to remain in the EU. Instead the ‘In’ campaign must focus not on the negatives of leaving the EU but rather the positives of continued membership.
With the EU suffering from economic instability, Greece on the verge of exit and a political crisis with the rise of extreme parties in many European countries it is hard for the ‘In’ campaign to point to the current EU as a success. Instead, the current situation provides the ‘Out’ campaign with the perfect opportunity to win the upcoming referendum by pointing to the EU as a declining power in the world which is holding the UK back rather than strengthening it and highlight how a future outside the EU will be beneficial. However, time is running out for the ‘Out’ campaign. Brexit will be less likely to happen if David Cameron succeeds in his renegotiations and redefining Britain’s relationship with the EU. If the ‘Out’ campaign wants to win the referendum they need to convince voters that a future without the EU is a bright one and they must do it quickly before this window of opportunity closes. Unless they can do this and abandon the immigration centric message currently in use they will not win.
British voters will not take a leap of faith into the unknown until they are sure the status quo is no longer viable and the future is secure. The ‘Out’ campaign is in a race against the clock. It must convince voters before David Cameron’s negotiations are complete and unless they present a more positive message they will suffer defeat when Britain goes to the polls. The first side to abandon the fear-mongering and embrace the optimism of a better future, either within or without the EU, will win the upcoming referendum. Which side will realise this first remains to be seen, but with the referendum fast approaching, the EU in turmoil and the renegotiation underway, the ‘Out’ campaign window of opportunity to switch from fear to future is fading.