Having anticipated the referendum for some time, I have pondered the challenges facing the In Campaign. I am also incredibly keen to get involved! There are some powerful myths to be dispelled, and serious fears to slay. There’s much to consider, and I’ve started with four points:
The age demographic
Any election should target the population as a whole, but in a binary referendum this is more crucial. Younger and older demographics have their own obstacles to conquer. It will be advantageous to have 16 and 17 year olds included in the referendum, however, young votes are not a given (none are!). Younger voters consume diverse media. Campaigners striving to stay in Europe will need to engage with a broad social media, from Twitter and Facebook, to Huffington Post and Vice News. Strong sharable content needs to be mirrored by traditional media, in as many publications as possible. Older voters can be, by nature, more eurosceptic. Sustained broadsheet and tabloid media articles, refuting myths as they arise, and strengthening Britain’s case to stay in the EU, will be needed to compliment a social media strategy. There is no one size fits all approach.
Drawing on reports such as Sofia Vasilopoulou’s “Mixed feelings: Britain’s conflicted attitudes to the EU before the referendum”, for example, there is evidence to suggest the electorate is comfortable with Europe influencing areas of economic policy. These areas include (but are not limited to) environment and climate change, trade, sustainable development and energy. Capitalising on these areas, highlighting the benefit of EU involvement and support, will be key to building a convincing argument on a solid, factual foundation. Being strategic in the areas you discuss will help win the battle.
I’m loathe to write a negative point, yet it has a positive message. I think it is vital that the campaign refrains from messages of fear. Scaremongering can be left to the no campaign. The in campaign’s “energy” must be that of hope. To look back to the SNP’s independence campaign, it drew on a romantic notion of Scotland. Although the referendum was lost, they won a de-facto victory in the 2015 General Election. Critics of the no campaign cited the scaremongering tactics that lead to a rejection of so-called Westminster politics in their entirety. A hollow referendum victory could have greater repercussions immediately afterwards. Arguing that we will be worse off out of the EU has limited mileage; there must also be an emphasis of the benefits. The campaign must allay fears, not add to them. A positive campaign should include striving for reform.
Channel an apolitical voice
Any campaign figure will attract some and alienate others. The corporate voice of the campaign must embrace all advantageous aspects of EU membership. The campaign must strive not to be seen as right, centrist or left. Even, as far as possible, for party specific campaign bodies. There is a possible pitfall of cosmopolitan cliché. I personally believe in liberté, égalité, fraternité but that message has no place in a serious campaign. Those values are fantastic, but those who subscribe to them do not need to be won over. Those in the undecided camp will be turned off. To a great extent, those in the anti-Europe camp (europhobes as opposed to eurosceptics) are forever lost. To win over the undecided camp will require a reliable, factual campaign, unafraid to face the facts and immune to sentimentality (although in private, it may be inspired by it!)
I am a realist. I grew up in Conservative heartland and know that as much as support for EU membership is diverse, so is its opposition. I have a military and police background, but also a “softer” non-for profit element. My friends, colleagues, and peers are not all EU friendly. I am a hybrid – aware of all audiences we need to address.
These are exiting times indeed.
There are rational people saying no/out – and I want to talk to them about it.
This is the fight of a generation – let me play.