As both sides of the IN/OUT of the EU argument step up their campaigns, references to the Danish vote on the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 are increasingly popping up in the debate. Although the two situations differ in many ways, there is one similarity that ought to make the remain-camp reconsider its strategy.
First, the differences:
- The Danes were voting on a treaty that would entail further transfer of sovereignty from nation states to the EU level. Hence, a no vote was a vote for the status quo. In the current situation, a no vote is against the status quo.
- The vote on the Maastricht Treaty was a ‘smaller’ decision than the UK is currently facing. Denmark, in case of a no vote, would still be a member of the union although it would delay a treaty ratification process. It wouldn’t be unreasonable therefore to say that the Danes going against their government at the time were risking less than are the Brits.
- In the Maastricht case, the establishment and elite (here defined as the majority of government, the majority of the main opposition, the business community, think tanks and random celebrities, incl 80% of parliament) were in favour of change, with the fringe parties and the uncool squad (apologies for the generalization) voting for the status quo. In the current UK case, it’s the other way around. Fringe parties and awkward squad voting for change and the establishment and elites for the status quo (again a generalization, apologies).
So, then, what is this similarity of which the Remain campaign ought to take note? The short answer: The Kitchen sink strategy.
In 1992, the Danish elite threw everything and everyone at the electorate in order to get its message through. It didn’t help. The Danes went against their government and rejected the treaty. Arguably, the UK Remain campaign has gone further, especially when outlining its predictions in case of no vote. Deceased dictators will cheer from their graves. Terrorist groups and uncool fictional characters will rejoice. The UK will fall out with her trading partners, the economy will tank, house prices will collapse. Utility bills will go up, food prices will rise. Jobs will disappear to our competitors in the EU and globally. It will end in tears, and most likely war.
Now, whilst this may all be true, as an argument, it is simply too heavy to be persuasive. When the elite pressure gets this hard, and ‘threats’ from external parties are added to the mix, there is a real danger of triggering a sort of toddlerish, contrarian reaction. And the awkward alliances we saw last week (e.g. the PM lined up next to uncomfortable-looking representatives from three opposition parties) do nothing for the remain case, even less so at a time when trust in politicians is low. What’s designed to look like unification will almost certainly end up causing suspicion, which again leads to further alienation.
This, of course, is not to say that the Remain campaign should just sit tight and hope for the best. But perhaps they ought to try a quieter and less bombastic approach.
This post was written for the OWL by Dr Mette Elise Jolly
12 June 2016