Let’s call it Project Fear 2.0. As the Remain campaign moves up the gears it has the considerable advantage of a road tested playbook. In the run-up to the Scottish Referendum in 2014, the UK government, and, most particularly The Treasury, set about frightening the voting natives with a series of high profile warnings of the apocalypse which would surely follow any break-up of the union.
In a quite unprecedented breach of civil service protocol the permanent Secretary to The Treasury, Sir Nicolas Macpherson, published his private advice to the chancellor.It homed in on what would become a key issue – the refusal to allow an independent Scotland to continue with sterling.
His letter to George Osborne concluded: “I would advise you against entering a currency union with an independent Scotland. There is no evidence that adequate proposals or policy changes ……could be devised, agreed and implemented by both governments in the foreseeable future.”
Not unexpectedly it caused a massive row and his subsequent rationale was nothing if not revealing:"My view in this case – and it's a very exceptional case – is that if publishing advice could strengthen the credibility of the Government's position, then it was my duty to do it.”
Fast forward to cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Hayward’s letter to permanent secretaries published this week advising them that civil service resources “must only be used in the referendum campaign if they support the Government’s official stance in support of Britain’s membership of the EU.”
The same missive advised special advisers attached to Brexit ministers that they should campaign only in their own time and at their own expense. Should they be found to be doing so in the course of their normal working day their salary would be adjusted accordingly!
This week’s letter from a raft of business leaders also had a useful precedent. In 2014 the bosses of major supermarkets and retailers were summoned to Number 10 and encouraged to make public their fears for trade if an artificial border were set up between Scotland and England.
The argument over how the British economy would suffer from “Scexit” was re-inforced by RBS and Lloyds among other banks admitting to contingency plans to move their main office to London. In case nobody was paying sufficient attention the Treasury helpfully put out a press release.
Memorably, the Treasury were also able to tell the BBC’s political editor about the RBS’ game plan before the bank’s relevant evening board meeting had concluded. Truly the Treasury’s night vision and predictive powers are a thing of wonder.
But the MOD has form too. As the No camp continued to slip in the polls, they were able to assure the nation that were a Scottish government to insist on Trident removal from the Clyde, neither Devonport nor any English base would be suitably secure to house the Vanguard submarine fleet.
So: less strong, less secure, more dangerous in a dangerous world. Has a familiar ring? By then the Scottish public were bracing themselves for news from Defra that the latter would sadly not be in a position to aid the Scottish department of agriculture and fisheries when the upcoming locust plague threatened to re-locate north of Berwick.
Meanwhile, somewhat to the bemusement of that same tartan electorate, the Leave campaign is losing no opportunity to lecture their audience on the joys of self determination. All those chaps who made cross border forays into the 2014 Referendum campaign the better to advise Scots that separatism was a dangerous – yes folks – “ leap in the dark”, have binned that rather negative script and joyously embraced “the capacity to make our own laws and decisions”.
This is a particularly rich intervention from London’s own blond bombshell given how much time he previously devoted to the importance of getting these whingeing Jocks to realise how lucky they were to be joined at the hip to metropolitan brain power, enterprise and major trading partners. But there is a whopping irony attendant on all of this and I doubt Nicola Sturgeon finds it the delicious variety.
Historically and currently Scotland has always been more enthusiastic about Europe. The polls for staying in regularly top 60 per cent. The First Minister has said she will campaign rigorously for remaining in the EU, even if, like Jeremy Corbyn, her reasoning is predicated more on social and employment policies. So imagine the joy with which she, and most of the erstwhile Yes campaigners, view the prospect of spending the next few months metaphorically in bed with team Dave, whilst Boris’ battalions urge voters to rise up and be a nation again.