The Blog

EU Referendum - The Yes Vote Still Has a Mountain to Climb

As the EU Referendum campaign kicks-off, seasoned pundits continue to argue that the possibility of 'Brexit' remains slim, if existent at all. They are wrong.

As the EU Referendum campaign kicks-off, seasoned pundits continue to argue that the possibility of 'Brexit' remains slim, if existent at all.

They are wrong. Almost all cite as evidence over-simplified polls that ask voters a simple 'yes/no' question. These are the same binary questions pollsters asked voters during the General Election campaign. And look where that got us...

In reality, referendum decisions need to be broken into 'definite', 'maybe', and 'don't know'. A Survation poll from last month, which tested responses in this manner, has 'definite in' voters just four points up (16.2%) on 'definite out' voters.

According to polls like this, in order to win the referendum, the 'Yes' team must convince those leaning towards staying in (30.6%) and convince a crucial proportion of 'don't knows' (12.8%), of the merits of EU membership.

Without doing so the election will be decided by a passionate - and fringe - minority of voters, for whom the EU is a pivotal issue, largely for negative reasons.

The journey to win these new votes begins with us pro-Europeans stomaching some hard truths. Chief amongst which is the lack of general interest in the EU. According to the latest Ipsos Mori Issues Index, only 2% of people think the EU is the most important issue facing Britain today. Secondly, we must appreciate that whilst the EU is of little interest to voters, immigration is. The No campaign will desperately attempt to tie the two issues together in a non-discriminatory way. In turn pro-Europeans must separate the two issues and clearly lay out how EU membership empowers blue collar jobs and provides a net contribution to the economy, rather than leeching of it.

People often think making this pro-immigration argument is about morals and ethics. It is not. Making such an argument is a strategic imperative if only to place doubt in voters' minds when they discuss immigration with their friends and family.

Such a message probably cannot come from the official 'Yes' campaign- doing so might present it as pro-immigration, which it is not. Instead the mantle will fall to second tier groups and businesses to stand up.

Beyond this, the Yes campaign should take an honest and methodical approach to the economic benefits of EU membership. We need the consistently of the 'long term economic plan'. A tactic Janan Ganesh, political editor at the Financial Times, calls the "cold-blooded approach".

This is not to say Yes campaigners should become fear mongers. Fear, if overdone, can undermine the positive messages of a campaign, a lesson hard learnt from the Scottish referendum. Instead, messages should objectively promote the positive financial effect of EU membership rather than just focus on the negative implications of withdrawal.

There will be a final, if somewhat unexpected, dimension to this campaign. The notion that we could head for another Scottish referendum if the UK - but not Scotland - votes to leave the EU. The threat of another independence referendum has already distanced some wavering Conservative MPs from the No campaign.

The electorate clearly has an appetite for tactical voting. Analysts now think the Conservatives claim that a Labour win in the General election would put the SNP in the heart of government convinced as many as 2.5% of the electorate, previously allied to Ukip, to re-enter the Tory fold.

Weaponising the threat of Scottish independence in the eventuality of Brexit, could provide the final electoral missile Yes campaigners have been looking for.