Book review: Project Fear


Project Fear by Joe Pike

My rating: ★★★★☆

The Basics: A blow by blow account of the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum campaign, focussing on the inner workings of the Better Together side and the effects of the result.

In-depth: Joe Pike’s Project Fear is a fascinating and very readable account of the 2014 referendum campaign. With another referendum on independence being mooted in Scotland it is worthy reminder of the campaign, it’s main events and just how much has changed since and because of it.

Focussing first on the inner workings on the Better Together side, particularly it’s staffing, media strategies and political leadership. The book’s title takes it’s name from the label which was originally self attributed to the No campaign. However this soon became a derogatory term for it’s relentlessly negative campaign based on highlighting the risk, especially economic risk, of voting yes to independence.

The incredibly fast pace of this account, as written by a journalist caught up in the events, is a thrilling insight into the exhausting and relentless democratic process of a major referendum campaign. Individual characters within Scottish Labour make up much of the cast, with the reluctant leader of the campaign Alistair Darling, coming under the most scrutiny.

Some of the books most interesting passages come on the TV debates held between Darling and Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP. Here the preparations of the media and press attaches of the No campaign make for a great read, especially with Pike’s personal insights of who exactly was playing Salmond in the mock preparations for example.

Ultimately, as the books full title documents, the No campaign won – just – but the result had some very divisive effects. The second half looks at the soon realised legacy of the referendum: the near extinction of Scottish Labour at the 2015 General Election. Here the focus of Pike’s account shifts from Darling to Jim Murphy, the Leader of the Scottish wing of the Labour Party tasked with navigating the election. The incessant plotting, infighting and unawareness of just how bad it was going to get makes this second half in fact the more interesting part of the book – but on an admittedly very niche topic.

On the whole this is a highly readable account of a referendum campaign which seems like it was an age ago, given recent events, as well as highly relevant due to the possibilities of a rerun of an independence referendum.