This article will be developed as time goes on, but I already discern lessons from the AV referendum (both No and Yes campaigns) that could be usefully taken on board by a No2EU campaign.

The lessons are:

1. Don’t just talk to yourselves and your core support. Go for those voters who may be wavering and give them clear reasons to vote your way. The Yes2AV completely failed on this front and reaped the consequences (“a campaign by Guardian readers for Guardian readers”, as one critique put it). Rein in those advocates of the cause who DO appeal to the core vote and instead push forward those who can reach out to voters who might otherwise vote the other way. I’m not necessarily suggesting David Owen for the No2EU campaign but an Owen-like figure nearer the political centre would be able to deliver a very powerful No message. The Roger Helmers and Dan Hannans should probably stay in the background and firmly within the Conservative Party to bolster support from there. The impact of Nigel Farage would have to be tested with focus groups. Recognised Labour figures would have to be brought forward because, like No2AV, it could very well be the split Labour vote that decides the referendum – this point may alone steer how the campaign is pitched.

2. Ensure the message is simple and makes an ’emotional’ connection with the electorate. Lengthy appeals to reason don’t necessarily work. I’m not a PR man so I can’t immediately suggest the best way of doing this. But No2EU’s campaign strategy would need to brainstorm this and test any messages before focus groups

3. The “Don’t Knows” will drift towards supporting the status quo unless they are given (and can absorb) those simple & ’emotional’ messages.

4. Fear of change can be powerful, particularly backed up with sometimes questionable ‘facts’. A Yes2EU campaign will do this in spades e.g. shutting off our main market; mass unemployment; we’re just a small island; we’ll be leaving a large club for a small one etc etc. The No2AV campaign doesn’t just need to respond to these: it needs a positive and clear alternative vision. This is something that the eurosceptic movement has largely failed to do to date.  All current calls for a referendum will become a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” if this is not addressed, and eurosceptics will end up after a Yes vote like the Libdems of today – all washed up despite getting the referendum they wanted.

5. The ground needs to be prepared for a referendum so that an ‘upswell of demand for a referendum’ is generated among the electorate in advance. This is largely being done with the significant exception of an alternative vision (mentioned above).

6. There is a real risk of the electorate using the referendum to answer a different question to the one being asked e.g. “Do you want PR?” Do you want to kick Nick Clegg over tuition fees?”. This can actually work both ways (in favour of a campaign or against it) and needs to be managed by the campaign. For a No2EU campaign, it may become a beauty contest with people following the politician or celebrity they like most….or going the other way because they despise them. At the very least, an EU referendum should not be held on the same day as other elections.

7. ‘Divide and Conquer’ the opposition. This again could work both ways i.e. it is both an opportunity and a threat. The Yes2EU campaign could pick off potential No voters by acknowledging all their criticisms and then by:  

  • promises of reform
  • “working within the EU to make the difference you want”
  • how the EU is “already moving the British way; don’t damage that”
  • the “continuing need for a bulwark against China and the U.S”

In return, No2EU could use a strategy which acknowledges any good the EU has done and also acknowledges & accepts the 1975 Yes vote as being the right vote at that time. This strategy fits in with the idea of not talking to yourselves and your core supporters (who would disagree with such a message but are going to vote No anyway). The purpose would be to pick off voters who, in their guts want to be pro-EU and perhaps have been pro-EU, but they have growing sense that the EU has “lost its way and can’t be fixed”. They need messages that to love Europe and its diversity now means to spurn the EU for the alternative vision which No2EU must outline.

8. An ‘anti-politics’ message works. This may seem an odd point to make given that the Yes2AV campaign tried this (after a fashion) yet didn’t win. However had they pushed Nigel Farage to the front of the campaign with his anti-politics message (and from the Right), I strongly suspect things would have been different. A No2EU campaign must have an anti-politics message, so less of the “we need to be deciding laws in the House of Commons” but “we the British people should be deciding upon that”. It also needs to make clear how many of our laws were actually born in Brussels (with actual everyday examples that people can relate to) and thus links political decisions firmly back to Brussels.

That’s all for now. This post may well develop further.