The EU debate throws up emotive arguments – it is something that seems to affect us all. From holidays in Spain to the French cheese selection in the supermarket, we all come into contact with the UKs membership of the European Union someway or other. I have to confess that I am entering this discussion with a belief that generally referendums are a bad idea; we elect our politicians to represent us, and for something as important as our membership of the EU we should have research to back up the outcome not just emotion. But the reality is, for better or for worse, we have a referendum promised to us, and at an as yet undisclosed date we will be walking to our polling stations and voting to stay In or to Leave the EU.
With the launch of the non-partisan and party- led campaigns the opposing sides in this debate have made their opening moves. Each campaign seeks to organise locally and win hearts and minds to their cause. Yet, there are compelling reasons why a negative campaign should take the foreground - scare tactics do work. The counter-argument to this, though, is evidenced by Labour’s heavy defeat in Scotland following the success of the Better Together campaign against independence. This battle wound is still raw, and Labour In will be sure to learn from the experience. This means the campaign could go one of two ways.
The most effective tactic in the short term would be for Labour In to wage a negative campaign, but doing so would have ramifications for the general election in 2020, especially for Labour seats where UKIP has a strong presence. The other tactic would be to take a purely positive approach, leaving out some of the most compelling arguments for EU membership and gambling that the campaign will gather enough vote for In regardless. Labour Leave has possibly an even more difficult job if they are to achieve their aims. Not only is EU membership the status quo, as of yet the campaign has failed to set out what the alternative would look like. From the looks of it the campaign will also be a negative one, stating what it is about the EU membership we should be shot of rather than making a positive case for change.
Additionally, muddled into this debate are Cameron’s negotiations. At the moment both ‘Leave’ and ‘In’ campaigns are based around the current terms of membership; they have to be. But this may well not be the reality come the referendum. Cameron may well be seen as a statesman in the UK, but within the EU he has a tendency to be ineffective at best and irrelevant at worst: his backing of Donald Tusk to be President of the European Commission being a case in point. This leaves me thinking that the negotiations may not go as well as he hopes.
Even if the referendum is held in June much can change between now and then. The EU debate will be dominating for a while to come.
Ellie Groves is Editor of Anticipations, the Young Fabians quarterly journal