If you’re explaining, you’re losing.
One of the most astonishing moments of the Scottish independence referendum was when the three “unionist” party leaders shared a platform to explain “The Vow”. So badly had the “No” campaign been run, that it ended up doing the explaining – going into detail about what staying in the UK would mean. A less complacent and better run campaign would never have been in such a position; it would have forced the “Yes” side to do all the explaining (as Alasdair Darling had done successfully in the first debate), leaving all the uncertainty on the “Yes” side. As it was, it was left almost as unclear what a “No” vote would mean as a “Yes” vote – and a 30-point lead was reduced by two thirds come polling day.
Prime Minister David Cameron is now at risk of doing the same thing. He is spending far too much time discussing what his “reforms” are all about, at the expense of the much more fundamental debate about what is in the interests of households across the UK. The referendum question does not ask what we think of Mr Cameron’s reforms, nor (note well) what we think of Mr Cameron himself. It asks simply whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. That, and only that, is the issue.
Mr Cameron would be best, therefore, stepping aside now. His “reforms” are largely irrelevant. The issue is whether the UK wishes to remain part of the world’s largest free trade bloc (with the range of advantages that brings from a lower cost of living to an enhanced role on the global stage), or leave it and be sidelined (with all the uncertainties that brings from tariffs on food an electrical items to border controls and limited opportunities for R&D, science and agriculture).
As families for the first time in nearly a decade get used to wages rising in real terms but continue to be wary of global economic conditions, as we are faced with the greatest humanitarian horror on our frontier since at least the collapse of Yugoslavia, and as our free and democratic way of life is threatened by everything from Middle East terrorism to Far Eastern economic expansion, whether a few people have to wait a year or four years for in-work benefits is frankly neither here nor there.
Leaving the EU could see our holiday entitlements reduced; it could see the cost of living raised by up to £3000 per household; it could restrict our ability to seek trade, educational opportunities or even holidays in Continental Europe; it could destabilise the UK itself (with a second Scottish independence referendum and border controls re-introduced in Ireland); it could lead to American administrative, business and even military interests being transferred from the UK to a new “special relationship” with Germany, left as undoubted leader of Europe in the UK’s absence; it could see the withdrawal of CAP and PEACE funds from the UK’s periphery, enhancing the wealth gap between north and south (to the marked detriment of Northern Ireland); and it could see investment and jobs flow away from the UK, leaving our young people trapped with few opportunities (in a country which long ago lost its export base).
Proponents of “Leave” may want to deny some or all of the above. Let us hear them do so. Levels of child benefit for Romanians have nothing to do with anything – this debate is about the fundamental risk to our cost of living, job opportunities and social well-being that tearing us apart from the EU could cause. So let us have this debate, without delay.