We got a glimpse last week of the virulent, extreme right wing insurgent political force that is likely to dominate UK politics for the next decade. If you thought Cameron unleashed was bad, just wait until Conservatives for Britain are in charge.
Ah you say, not all of the 120 or so will campaign for a Brexit and and the polls point to the UK opting to stay in the EU. Indeed, but it is the consequences of a narrow EU referendum win on the back of exaggerated scare stories and perceived establishment and BBC bias which should worry us. It is quite possible that this will split the Tories, bring down the government and give a landslide victory to a right-wing populist Eurosceptic party marshalling the 40 – 45% of voters who voted No and who feel cheated and further aggrieved.
One of the lessons of the indyref is that winning the vote is not everything. It is debatable whether Project Fear with its relentless scare stories was necessary to deliver a No win, or whether it in fact contributed to the Yes surge. I suspect that it was counter-productive and helped to build the Yes campaign support in the spring of 2014, but also that the panicked scare stories promoted unquestioningly by the BBC helped deliver the swing back to No in the last week of the campaign.
But the 2015 UK general election in Scotland shows how powerful the losing side in a referendum can be under first past the post. We are of course a bit tired of lazy UKIP/SNP comparisons, but if we put aside the deep political differences, there is some truth in some of the insurgent v establishment analogies.
What partly forged the resurgent SNP vote in 2015 was the perception of many of the 45% who voted Yes that they had been lied to by the unionists and the media, indeed that they had been treated with contempt. The relentless scare stories, smears and media bias destroyed trust even amongst some of those who reluctantly voted No.
The SNP has wisely made clear it will not join with Cameron to campaign for a Yes vote in the EU referendum and Alex Salmond made a good start towards articulating a positive case for the EU on BBC Question Time last Thursday. He spoke of strengthening social Europe, and working together to address the environment and the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean. It would be good to also hear the SNP argue that it is only by working together at EU level that we can effectively take action against tax dodging and to ensure proper regulation of the banks and the finance sector.
But whatever success the SNP may have in Scotland we can already predict that Cameron, Labour and the CBI will be resurrecting the dismal Project Fear playbook for their Yes to EU campaign. The absurd purdah debate has already given the anti-EU brigade grounds for grievance (and demonstrated Labour’s lack of strategic intelligence). We can expect a stream of scare stories about job losses, damage to the economy, trade barriers, travel restrictions and various things we will not be “allowed” to do if we leave the EU. Those who vote No in the EU referendum will not go back to supporting Cameron’s Conservatives or Labour. If you think UKIP skewed political discourse in 2010-15 just wait until Conservatives for Britain start to capitalise on a post EU referendum surge.