A referendum on the UK membership of the EU is now inevitable. Although we don’t know a date yet, it would not surprise me to see it brought forward to autumn 2016. If we are to have it then bringing it forward to reduce economic uncertainty makes sense.
We also now know the proposed question which means the “In” campaign will also be the “Yes” campaign. We also know the Government’s proposals on who should be able to vote in the referendum. Although, excluding 16 and 17 year olds, EU citizens living in the UK and many ex-pats living abroad is likely to be challenged in the House of Commons, the House of Lords and maybe even legally.
In recent weeks we have also seen those in favour of staying in the EU come out fighting. For a long time we have known the CBI and the Engineering Employer's Federation (EEF) were strongly supportive of EU membership and now individual companies like Airbus and Ford are making their voices heard. Anyone who works for exporting companies or their suppliers will now start to think seriously about the threat of the UK being outside the EU which could result in these companies moving elsewhere in the EU to avoid paying tariffs. The same can be said for farmers who would not only lose their CAP funds but would also face huge, and I mean huge, customs duties on their products which are exported to EU countries.
Recently we have also seen the start of a campaign by Universities UK in favour of EU membership. I would also expect support from trade unions whose members benefit from the jobs and workers rights that EU membership brings. Hopefully the voluntary sector which benefits from EU funds will also find their voice. Last but not least, given my local authority background, I would hope Councillors at Councils across Wales will publicise the huge benefits EU funds have brought to their areas.
All these economic gains for Wales are important and will be highlighted in the campaign. However the "In" campaign will also need to make the emotional argument. To explain that the EU has brought us 60 years of unprecedented peace and that people, particularly young people now have the opportunity to travel, and work across the continent.
The question however, remains who will take the lead in putting forward these arguments for EU membership. It seems that the main pro-EU organisations like British Influence, the European Movement and Business for New Europe are in talks to create a single, united organisation to lead the campaign. This single organisation will have supporters from across the political parties and across sectors.
This new organisation will need a figurehead(s), maybe a well-known business person, sporting professional or an influential public personality. An alternative would be a dream team of well-respected politicians such as Rhodri Morgan, Dafydd Elis Thomas, Nick Bourne and Mike German.
Underneath this each political party will want to undertake its own campaigning. The experience from the Scottish referendum shows there needs to be space for individual party campaigns. It is important each Party has the opportunity to use messages that maximise the support of its voters. I shall certainly be encouraging my own party to get ready to campaign as soon as possible.
What I have described here will take a lot of organising and time to put into place. The "Out" campaign will be small but vocal and aggressive. The "In" campaign needs to be ready for this. The sooner the better.