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Reasons to be Fearful? Ponderings on the EU referendum and “Scaremongering”.

June 10, 2016
Der Untergang der Titanic

Der Untergang der Titanic

It’s become one of those tedious “plague on both your houses” commonplaces that both sides in the EU referendum have been guilt of “scaremongering”.  “Scaremongering” is apparently a very bad thing – the worst thing you can do – and something that you should react to by doing the the very thing anyone has tried to scare you off doing – no matter what that thing may be.

Since the “Leave” campaign necessitates making the case for a radical change to the status quo, most of the charges of “scaremongering” (a term that it’s almost impossible to deploy without using scare quotes oddly enough), have been leveled at the Remainers by the Leavers.  Indeed, it has reached the point where just about every warning made by Remainers is instantly dismissed as “scaremongering” and thereby a sign of “desperation”.

Meanwhile, the Leavers have been doing their own scaring – mostly with reference to immigration.  I’ve seen one “Leave” poster which has a map of Europe with Turkey highlighted  in a threatening shade of red and a big arrow with “76 Million” written on it that seems to give the impression that if Britain stays in the EU then the entire population of Turkey will move to Swindon.

Now if “scaremongering” means anything – I would contend that it means this – or something like this.  Either we stop warning anyone about anything ever – or we agree that some warnings are valid and others aren’t.  Some warnings are based on significant threats based on real evidence and others aren’t.  And the people who came up with the Turkey moving to Swindon threat are clearly working on the assumption that Brits are stupid and frightened and will believe anything.  (Incidentally, since the UK has a veto on new member states, the best way for a Turkeyophobe to keep Turks far away from Swindon is to stay in the EU.)

Turkey moving to Swindon then = scaremongering.  What about economic analyses produced by around 90% economic experts warning of the recessionary impact of Britain leaving the EU – replete with independently verified statistics?  Scaremongering?  What about the fact that the most ruthlessly self-interested people in the world have already started disinvesting in Britain because they are afraid of Britain leaving the EU?  Scaremongering?  I would contend that if “scaremongering” is to mean anything it has to mean somehow manufacturing and promoting a threat where a threat would not otherwise exist.  If “scaremongering” is just an accusation that is thrown around every time a warning is issued ahead of a big decision – then we’re all doomed.

There is nothing cowardly about changing course in response to an avoidable threat.  The Titanic received several iceberg warnings in April 1912.   Scaremongering?  Were those warnings signs of “desperation” on the part of the iceberg lobby?

Of course I suspect that the Leavers who want to translate every warning about leaving the EU into “desperate scaremongering” and then use this supposed “desperation” to fire up their troops – do not themselves ignore every warning they receive on some kind of existential principle.  Leavers (like everyone else) look left and right before crossing the street.  They don’t let their kids play on thin ice.  Nobody can live like that (or not for very long).

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