Thursday, 24 September 2015

Book Review - Project Fear by Joe Pike

I've just finished reading Project Fear: How an Unlikely Alliance Left a Kingdom United but a Country Divided by Joe Pike.  This is Mr Pike's first book, and a very good read it is too.

The book covers both the Better Together campaign from the referendum and the General Election campaign which took place between the referendum and May 2015.  It features material taken from interviews with many of the key players in both campaigns and provides a fascinating insight into the shambles that was the Better Together campaign and the election campaigns of Labour, the Libdems and the Tories in Scotland for the General Election.

The overriding impression left by the section on the Better Together campaign is that it won the referendum more by good luck than anything else.  The organisation appears to have been akin to herding cats, with people like Gordon Brown insisting on doing their own thing regardless of what the Better Together campaign as a whole wanted to do.  To be honest it doesn't tell us anything we hadn't already inferred about the campaign, bur it is interesting to see how it was viewed by the participants. 

There was one anecdote about how, when the going got tough, Jackie Baillie would send out for an order of 60 cakes from a local bakery to cheer everyone up.  On reading this, the first thought that popped into my head was 'I wonder how many people she was buying them for?'.  Does that make me a bad person?

The Better Together campaign seemed to be to be overly reliant on focus groups, polls and spin doctors,  pretty much overlooking the grassroots campaigning that was the hallmark of the Yes campaign.  They won on the day, but not by nearly as big a margin as they had expected.  I think this is at the root of their constant calls for reassurance that there will not be another indyref any time soon.  It was too close for comfort, and subsequent events have made another win for the Unionist side look iffy to say the least.

The second part of the book covers Jim Murphy's disastrous spell as Labour leader in the period from the end of 2014 to May 2014.  To be fair to Mr Murphy, he did have an uphill struggle to deal with, and the fact that he failed is not entirely of his own making.  However, the book does demonstrate that Labour in Scotland were in deep denial about the erosion of their support since 2011, hence their utter shock when they lost 40 of their 41 seats in the General Election.  Even now, I think that many of the senior Labour faces are still in denial, and employ phrases such as 'when the voters come to their senses'.  This is, I think related to the fact that many of them had grown so used to people voting Labour by default over the years, they had no idea how to run a campaign and instead relied on the fact that they had spent so much time being the local MP.  Many of them had no plan for losing their job.  Margaret Curran had a plan apparently - she said she wanted to open a gay bar on Ibiza named 'Margaritas'.  Be interesting to see if she actually does it.

Overall I very much enjoyed reading this.  There was a hint of schadenfreude, but it was also fascinating to see that many of the things that Yes side had inferred about the campaign were true, and sometimes were even worse that we thought.

Highly recommended.  I would be very interested in a similar book about the Yes side.

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