From The Times:
…It’s a given now, in Scotland, that Project Fear won the day. The lack of a credible currency, the fear of investment flight, the spectre of vast reliance on a faltering oil price; all of these things gave people pause. On the first two, today, we simply cannot know whether the naysayers were right. The third, though, came up trumps. Were Scotland now independent, debts would be soaring, hospitals would be closing, and benefits would be cut to the bone. There was, it turned out, a lot to be fearful about.
Yesterday, George Osborne brought Project Fear into the referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. It was already there, swirling around, but not with such clarity. According to the chancellor, a Treasury analysis suggests that Brexit could leave Britain’s economy 6 per cent smaller by 2030, effectively a cost per household of £4,300.
To Brexiteers this is a brazen attempt to frighten people into voting to stay. The MP Bernard Jenkin called the Treasury report “misleading” and “disreputable”. Michael Fabricant, reminding me enormously of my Glasgow maths teacher, suggested “next a plague of frogs”. Nigel Farage, who at least isn’t a fellow Tory, called it “the most astonishing scare story in economic terms I’ve ever heard”. It was telling, Farage added, that Osborne made no positive case for EU membership, but had merely resorted to peddling the supposed perils of departure. Boris Johnson was already saying something similar. “Bremain,” he declared on Sunday, “has not a shred of idealism”.
All of this sounds very familiar. In the Scottish referendum, certainly, I wanted idealism. I wanted unionist passion, of a modern, Danny Boyle sort, and it bothered me enormously that it wasn’t there. Although looking back, I’m not sure it would have made much difference. You do not, I now realise, defeat a passion with a rival passion. You defeat it by exposing that passion as an enemy of sense.
This may be why, with Europe, only Brexiteers seem to feel that passion is important. “Nobody feels European in the way people feel Portuguese or Swedish,” declared the Outer Tory MEP Dan Hannan, on the BBC’s Question Time last week. Yet for the likes of Osborne and David Cameron, that’s rather the point. The crux of their argument is anti-passion. It is about what works best. Or, I suppose, about what works worst…
…Remain, at this point, has nothing but fear. Do not mistake this for a weakness, for fear alone has a purity you can trust. Fear is a perfectly sensible reason for doing things. Or, better still, for not doing things. Not stepping out in traffic. Not having an affair. Not trying the shellfish. Not invading Syria. It is, in many respects, the very essence of conservatism, and it’s astonishing how many Conservatives seem to have forgotten this. Let’s hear it for fear. It is nothing to be afraid of.
Read the rest of Hugo Rifkind’s piece here.