The merits of separate EU referendum campaigns

European Union

Unlike in the Scottish referendum, it looks as if the EU referendum will be fought with multiple campaigns on each side.

One of the legacies of last year’s Scottish independence referendum was that the SNP surged in support, leading to them taking 56/59 seats in Scotland this May. At the same time Labour lost all but one of their original 41 seats. Many have blamed this on the fact that the Labour party shared a stage with the "toxic" Tories during the referendum campaign.

Better Together saved the union, but arguably cost Labour significant electoral support.

For the EU referendum it looks as if Labour has learnt lessons from last year. The Labour Yes campaign has already been started, and Alan Johnson MP has been chosen to lead it.

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This marks a big change from a united cross-party campaign.

But there are significant merits to separate campaigns.

Firstly, the parties will not be directly associated with each other like in the Scottish independence referendum. Labour will not suffer from “sharing a stage with the Tories”, and vice versa.

Secondly, a point which I think is most important. Separate campaigns allow for separate visions. A Labour Yes campaign and a Conservative Yes campaign will each fight for staying in the EU, but they will make separate cases for how they want to shape the EU in the future, creating further diversity in the referendum. And seeing as referendums are generally a binary choice then these divides will add to the debate.

Labour have a different vision for Europe than the Conservatives do. It’s only fair that these different visions are reflected in the campaign.

For example, during the independence campaign the unionist parties shared a common goal of a united country, but separate campaigns would have allowed for the different visions for different levels of devolution to be heard. Separate campaigns could have also helped Labour in the long run.

Of course there are bad things to separate campaigns. Too much separation can suggest fragmentation and division on one side, but for the EU referendum I reckon separate campaigns on the Yes side will do more good than harm.

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