Saturday, February 20, 2016

A short EU referendum campaign doesn't shut down the risk for the Tory party

Last night, I happened to stumble on a Twitter discussion in which Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson and Paul Sinclair swapped examples of lessons that the Prime Minister had supposedly learned from the indyref as he plotted his tactics for the European battle.  I'm not really convinced that either of them were barking up the right tree.  Farquharson reckoned that the Scottish experience had taught Cameron that he needed to have a firm offer of a reformed union before going to the people.  The problem here is that the plan for a pre-negotiation on Europe was in place long before the indyref, and I seem to recall a number of people pointing out the blatant contradiction of Cameron's stance (especially when he insisted that it was absolutely essential to get the decision on independence out of the way before discussions on more powers could begin).

Sinclair's suggestion sounded more plausible - that Cameron had learned from Scotland that it's necessary to have a short, sharp campaign to prevent the referendum having an impact on party voting patterns (ie. to prevent Out-voting Tory supporters switching en masse to UKIP in the same way that Yes-voting Labour supporters switched en masse to the SNP).  But let me present to you Exhibit A - the Scottish result of the 2014 European Parliament election, held just four months before the indyref...

SNP 29.0% (-0.1)
Labour 25.9% (+5.1)
Conservatives 17.2% (+0.4)
UKIP 10.5% (+5.2)
Greens 8.1% (+0.8)
Liberal Democrats 7.1% (-4.4)

As you can see, Labour did pretty well - at least relative to the SNP's performance.  You certainly wouldn't look at that and think they were heading for complete meltdown only a year later.  You would also think they were shaping up to at least be reasonably competitive in the next Holyrood election.  Opinion poll evidence paints much the same picture - the last few polls before the referendum gave Labour their customary commanding lead in Westminster voting intentions, and gave the SNP a relatively modest lead (of less than 10 points) for Holyrood.

The reality is that the long referendum campaign passed most voters by.  It wasn't until a very late stage that Yes voters looked deep into the soul of the Scottish Labour party, and found what they saw profoundly ugly.  I would imagine that the set-piece TV debates (including even the one that Alex Salmond supposedly 'lost') played a big part in that, with a senior Labour figure so visibly and miserably making the case for unelected Tory rule in Scotland.

So a short campaign isn't necessarily going to eliminate the risks for Cameron.  Having said that, the EU referendum is a very different beast, and the fact that several Tory cabinet ministers are being allowed to campaign for Leave may draw some of the poison as far as Tory voters are concerned.  Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether the Tory party itself can hold together after a divisive campaign.  The 1975 precedent is inconclusive - although Labour didn't split immediately, many people think the referendum sowed the seeds for the SDP split six years later, as some Labour pro-Europeans realised they had far more in common with their fellow Yes campaigners in the Liberal party than with the likes of Tony Benn.


  1. Interesting. My initial thoughts on this are that it's good news for UKIP who will get beamed into Scotland 24/7 until the EU ref and probably pick up an increased share in SP16 election (although, please God I pray, not the 6%+ required to be in the running for list MSPs). But if so, that would be bad news for the Tories as the vast majority of kipper votes would surely come from the Conservative camp. All Ruthie's hard work may well have been undone by Cameron's rush to the polls.

  2. Just like Labour in Scotland, the Tories lose if it's a leave vote and lose if it's a stay vote.

    If the vote is to stay all those folk who polled as UKIP last year but moved back to the tories last minute will return en masse to UKIP but this time for good as they'll know for certain that the tories will never deliver what they want most, withdrawal from Europe.

    And what a grave mistake to make any campaigning decisions based on experience of the indyref. The EU Ref is a very different beast, not least because half the tabloid media are on the side of leave this time.

  3. I think Cameron will regret his decision to hold a European union referendum. It is like switching from pigs head's to hornets nests.

  4. Glasgow Working ClassFebruary 20, 2016 at 9:34 PM

    Still do not know why the Nat sis want to prostrate themselves to the Krauts and Frogs. They would do the same to Scotland as they have done to the Greeks.
    Screw Cameron and Salmond lets get out of this corrupt mafia organisation. Typically Salmond does not want a referendum because he thinks the people are stupid. Cameron wants a referendum because he thinks we will vote to remain in. Let the battle commence.

    1. I thought JK (The good one) Didn't tolerate racism on this site?

      You really are a refugee from Stormfront Lite.

    2. And what sort of nationalism would that be, that talks of "Krauts" and "Frogs"? No wonder GWC is given free rein - he just self-destructs time after time.

    3. Glasgow Working ClassFebruary 20, 2016 at 10:04 PM

      Are you PC Taff? Get a life you and Anon live in the Twilight Zone. Try smiling even a grudging grin.

    4. I suspect GWC is anti-European people. Not sure why he hates my French wife and doesn't want our countries in union. Maybe he can correct me if I've misinterpreted his views.

      I personally would like Scotland in Europe alongside the other UK nations. Call me an internationalist.

    5. Glasgow Working ClassFebruary 21, 2016 at 1:17 AM

      I have never met your French wife but she may leave you if I do. But do not be silly Skier this is about getting out of a mega corrupt uncountable beaurocratic gravy train. Scotland is better than this. Salmond and Sturgeon n crawlin tae Europe becĂ use of their hatred of England is pathetic. If there was no EU who would they crawl tae? Putin! Aye.

    6. One can only assume that an old French pen pal grew tired of GWC's lamentable world view & terminated contact.
      Or maybe he choked on a bratwurst once.

    7. Glasgow Working ClassFebruary 21, 2016 at 5:28 PM

      So you have nothing to say about the corrupt beuraucracy in The EU. Just insults. It is idiots like you that will win the get out vote. Do you have anything positive to say about the EU and how we in Scotland benefit.

    8. From the fella indulging in racist invective.