As one of my friends said, it’s hard to resist writing a blog when you already have a title with a Richard Nixon reference, just as it is impossible for anyone who lived through the Scottish independence referendum to write anything about the forthcoming EU vote without referring to the events leading up to September 2014.
Sure, much of the debate from both sides 18 months ago might have been uninformed and bitter but politics was front and centre in Scotland, something clearly shown in the turnout of almost 85%. Observers were living and dying by the daily polls which were largely in agreement that the outcome would most likely be a “No” vote, one infamous poll notwithstanding of course!
And yet, the “Yes” campaign were insistent, their data were telling a very different story. Their vote was higher than was being polled because they were engaging with new voters who were more likely to be on their side and more motivated to turnout.
That motivation is a key point when examining the forthcoming EU referendum. The feeling prior to September 2014 was that “Yes” voters were more motivated to vote, whereas “No” voters were ambivalent – they might say “No” in a poll but they lacked the passion and belief in the Union to show up and vote. As it turned out the “No” vote was every bit as engaged and passionate as “Yes” and that is probably what swung the result in favour of the Better Together campaign.
So, what does that tell us about the forthcoming EU referendum? Unlike the Scottish Referendum, since the Prime Minister confirmed the referendum date, there have been polls showing both sides in the lead, making the 19% of consistently undecided voters even more crucial. Both campaigns need to engage with that group of undecideds and convince them not only that their side is right that it is important they actually vote, meaning they will have to answer a key question from the electorate, “Why should I care?”.
This brings us back to a motivation and a few questions. Are UK voters as engaged with the EU debate as the Scottish electorate was in September 2014? How many of the 19% of undecided vote will vote? Which set of voters will have the higher turnout?
In the Scottish referendum, both sides could appeal to identity and history, one with the Saltire and one with the Union Flag. For the EU campaign, whilst the Leave campaign can wrap itself in the red, white and blue to encourage voters to their side, it is hard to imagine Remain doing that with the 12 stars to the same effect. That could lead to a larger motivated vote to leave the UK, with many in the middle shrugging their shoulders and not showing up at all.
Remain must show passion and appeal to the heart as well as the head of electorate otherwise we could see a UK-wide turnout of around 55% with no silent majority out there to the rescue of the status quo as it did in September 2014.