The Government’s “fear-based” approach to the EU referendum debate risks “insulting people’s intelligence”, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, in the first significant signs of a split between Remain campaigners.
Calling for a more positive campaign, the SNP leader drew parallels with the tactics deployed during the Scottish independence referendum, claiming that then, as now, the Government has been guilty of “over-stating” its economic argument.
Her warning came as the Treasury published a new report, predicting that Brexit could lead to 820,000 job losses in two years.
Speaking during a visit to Westminster, where she campaigned alongside Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Ms Sturgeon said that voters had become “savvy” and would see through “overblown claims”.
“That kind of fear-based campaigning that starts to insult people's intelligence can have a negative effect,” she said. "I have control over how I campaign and I'm going to make a positive and progressive case.
"I don't think it's helpful, and I don't think anyone will be surprised to hear me say this, that when you hear big numbers that appear to be somewhat incredible, that doesn't necessarily help the issue."
A Downing Street spokesperson said that the Government’s predictions were “in line with forecasts made by economic bodies both domestically and internationally that there would be a significant impact to the economy of voting to leave.”
The Remain campaign was also criticised by Liberal Democrat grandee Baroness Shirley Williams who bemoaned the fact that the EU debate had become, in her view, “two white middle aged gentlemen on one side and two white middle aged gentlemen on the other.”
Making her first political intervention since retiring from the House of Lords earlier this year, the former Education Secretary said: “I’m very disappointed with this referendum debate, I will make no bones about that at all. I think some of the key questions have not been raised.
“It’s becoming increasingly a referendum about who should be the next leader of the Conservative Party. That is not what the referendum subject is about, it’s about the next 40 years in Britain. Does anyone talk about how good the EU is for women? They only talk about banks.
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