Leave are breaking the rules on referendums


The Leave campaign will be having a well-earned pint of bitter at the latest poll ahead of the European Union referendum put Brexit ahead of Remain.

Polls before the Guardian’s latest online and telephone poll have put remain ahead by 1 or 2 points, but never more.

Now, their lead is 52-48% – a shock in a week of tense stand-offs with Ukip campaigners in the streets of Northampton and others.

The Leave campaign are beginning to defy the tried and tested rules of referenda, on several points, particularly in the last few weeks.

Firstly, they are disunited.

Although there is one official Vote Leave campaign, it has a number of appendages, and many of whom tend to disagree with one another. Hotly.

This is evident after the news in February Ukip were considering expelling their only MP Douglas Carswell, after he conveyed support for the main Vote Leave campaign.

Ukip’s leader Nigel Farage backs Leave.EU, and so do the rest of his party. There is also the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, and other campaigns such as Out and Proud.

Disunity has been a problem in the past for UK referenda; specifically, the Scottish devolution movement in ’79.


The videos of confrontations in Northampton went viral online.

The Yes For Scotland campaign struggled to get a central campaign together, and its quest for single leader was fraught with problems.

The Labour Party established its own Labour For Yes movement, with their Scottish Secretary Hellen Liddell telling her Constituency Labour Parties: “We will not be soiling our hands by joining any umbrella Yes group. We will be fighting for devolution only with the Scottish TUC and the Co-operative Party [A Labour subsidiary].”

Yes For Scotland, though winning in theory, did not in practice, and some put this down to perhaps being their lack of unity.

Second, they are turning their attention towards core strategy issues, such as immigration. Meanwhile, Remain are plowing on with their economic warnings, and it is clear from past referenda the economic argument tends to sway the undecided voters.

The Scottish referendum in 2014 provides us with a good example of this, where issues of currency and business investment were almost certainly influential in tipping the balance in the final weeks of campaigning.

Remain have been dogmatically beating the economic drum, alongside the Bank of England who have warned of dire consequences of a Brexit.

It should be noted, on the point of forecasts by the Treasury, there is a number of issues which could be raised.

Firstly, Osborne established the Office for Budget Responsibility in his first speech in 2010, because he believed the Treasury made overly optimistic forecasts of public finances.

Mark Carney in conversation at the Bank of England.10th Feb 2015

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. Photo: Telegraph Media Group.

Robert Chote, Chairman of the OBR, said in 2013: “First, over‐optimism and differential access to information. In their published forecasts, governments may tend to be over‐optimistic about the outlook for the public finances…A watchdog has less temptation to be overoptimistic and can be given the same information that the government sees.

Therefore, we have to take any Treasury forecast with a pinch of salt.

Regardless, the figure that UK households will lose £4300 a year is based on Treasury forecasts, not current figures.

Thus, the state of the economy by 2030 could be much less rosy than current forecasts, meaning the difference between what the Treasury expects, and how they think Brexit will affect the economy may be much smaller.

Whatever the ins and outs of it are, numbers and headlines like that trigger uncertainty, and uncertainty causes small-c conservative voting.

So, are Leave omniscient, and knew the polls would give them a lead, allowing them to focus on consolidating their core vote this week?

Or, is this a rehash of 2014, and just one of those odd-ball polls which will be proved totally wrong by 24 June? It remains to be seen.


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