Friday, March 11, 2016

The need for a positive and credible case part 1: Remain

Both sides in the EU referendum debate have relied heavily on "project fear" tactics which vary very greatly in the degree to which they are justified.

Some of the "Project Fear tactics used by each side have been nonsense: one of two of those deployed by the "Leave" side have had some justification, and quite a few of those deployed by "Remain" will remain 100% justified up to at least the point when the rival "Leave" campaigns remove their heads from their collective fundaments and actually try to spell out a clear and credible strategy for what Britain should aim for after a "Leave" vote and the triggering of article 50.

But I think that with some honourable individual exceptions on both sides, Leave and Remain alike are guilty of failing to make a clear, positive and realistic case for why we should vote for them.

Leave has produced a deluge of idealistic waffle about sovereignty without ever spelling out exactly what powers they wish to reclaim, how Britain should use them and why that would make Britain a better place. Remain has asked all sorts of questions, some of them very pertinent indeed, about the risks of Brexit but with comparatively little effort to spell out a positive and constructive case for how Britain can be a better place inside the EU.

I find this a shame, because I think Britain is and will remain a fantastic place to live whether we stay in or quit the European Union.

I think you can make a positive, forward looking vision of a Britain which uses the advantages of closer relations with the other countries of Europe while working to reform the EU: I also think you can make a positive and forward looking vision of a Britain which is not an EU member and has a different relationship with the other nations of Europe, provided it is built on a positive strategy to reinforce our strengths as a country and not on a backward-looking hatred of foreigners.

Alistair Meeks has an excellent piece on Political Betting here which suggests that "Britain Stronger in Europe" is following a very similar strategy to the one "Better Together" followed in Scotland. As before, it will probably be enough to win the referendum, especially if "Leave" continues to fight a much more incompetent campaign than the SNP did. But he points out that the lack of a positive vision is a missed opportunity and suggests one:

"My suggestion, for what it is worth, is that the case could be made that being a leading member of the EU is the role that Britain found after it lost its empire, that it has enabled Britain to find peace with its history and to learn to look forward again.  Remain could plausibly argue that Britain was in relative economic decline until it joined the EEC and since then has done much better, benefiting from greater openness to European markets and other ways of doing things.  Building on that, Remain could then argue that staying in the EU would continue to offer these advantages of mooring Britain’s identity and continuing the British tradition of offering a calm, confident, outward-looking face to the world, drawing a contrast with Leave’s erratic, brittle and querulous tone.  It could have presented continued membership of the EU as the mature choice for a mature country in an imperfect world with imperfect options."

As Alistair says, that is not the only positive case "Remain" could put. But they certainly need to make more positive points in among the negatives.

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