As we near the end of David Cameron's farcical 'renegotiation' process and it becomes apparent that he's not going to come away with any new powers, and may well come away with nothing at all, it's been interesting watching the Guardian and the BBC gradually filling with stories about how Britain will be bit with disaster if we decide to leave the EU. Which leaves me despairing at the idiocy on show.
Here's the thing: if and when the referendum comes, I fully intend to vote "Remain", because I think that's the best way forward for the UK. Actually, I'd go further than that, and advocate that even our current position of being in the club, but only just, is a mistake and that actually we should be getting right in there. But never mind.
But when I read stories about how the UK won't survive leaving the EU, we'll never be able to trade with anyone ever again, or we're going to lose all our maternity/paternity leave or right to paid holidays, I find myself reminded of the oh-so-successful "Project Fear" (their name, not mine) that the UK-OK campaign used in the Scottish Independence referendum. Where, again, we had such delights as being told that Scotland, uniquely of all nations in the world, could never survive independence, that we'd never be able to trade with anyone ever again, and even that we'd find ourselves vulnerable to attacks from space (no, really).
The problem is that the powers-that-be seem to have mistaken the victory for the "No" vote in that referendum for a sign that "Project Fear" was a successful campaign. But it wasn't - Project Fear managed to turn a 70/30 lead two years before the referendum into a nail-biting 55/45 result. What's more, by failing to win hearts and minds, it has left independence very much a live issue in Scotland. We voted "No"... but only with very strong reservations.
"Project Fear" was a terrible campaign. To see it being repeated already in the EU campaign leaves me extremely worried - it's a losing proposition even if you start with an overwhelming majority (which "Remain" don't) and if you have the media overwhelmingly on your side (which "Remain" don't).
And the more extreme the claims, the more outlandish the nonsense, the more counter-productive they are. See, when we were told that an independent Scotland would be vulnerable to attack from space (no, really), the reaction was not "oh well, better vote "no" then", it was to immediately discard that as abject nonsense and also to disregard anything else that person had to say in future. And so all the big names in the "no" camp were gradually discredited - Theresa May when she said England may have to bomb our airports, Ed Miliband when he talked about putting up a big wall along the border, Jim Murphy every time he said anything... and the BBC as they uncritically reported every bit of nonsense. The "no" camp were very, very lucky that Gordon Brown had kept his powder dry and had just enough of a reputation left that he was able to sell the Vow... and that now wouldn't work again.
So, to the "Remain" campaign, I say this: please, please don't take anything from the "Project Fear" playbook unless it is to use it as an example of how things should not be done. There's still time to end this madness... but not much time.