referendum

As we pick up the pieces: 9 thoughts on Brexit

Like many, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the result of Thursday’s vote.

But as we try and pick up the pieces and make sense of the situation, here are some thoughts on Brexit:

1. No one on the left knows how to react, because almost no one saw this coming. Almost all the polls predicted a Remain win. All the betting companies predicted a Remain win. Every party – including UKIP – predicted a Remain win. The ramifications aren’t yet clear, but they are of course huge, and fairly terrifying.

2. This was a vote both against the ‘establishment’, and against immigration. It was a protest vote, and one with huge consequences, a ‘working class revolt’. Many who backed Brexit are said to already be regretting their decision – after doing it to feel some semblance power in a politics that feels distant, undemocratic and elite-driven. This is a result of alienation.

3. There is a gaping generational divide that was made clear on Thursday. The Remain side probably would have won had Cameron agreed to letting 16 and 17 year olds vote. He rejected it to his own demise. And 75% of 18-24 year olds say they backed staying in the EU, compared to just 39% of over 65s.

The sad fact is this: the baby boomers took the Millennials out of Europe – despite the latter being the main ones to face the consequences. However, far fewer 18-24 year olds actually voted than older people – meaning we partly have ourselves to blame. The Remain side did themselves no favours (see the cringe-inducing ‘Votin’ push and the total lack of youth issues discussed in the referendum), but regardless: Britain’s generations are at war with each other.

4. The Greens should back re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged this. Many feel like the referendum result was won on the back of an extremely poor debate – and one arguably based on false pledges on the Leave side – both on cutting immigration and investing in the National Health Service (Leave claimed Brexit would put £350m per week into the NHS). Those pledges have already been back-tracked upon.

Nearly three million people – almost a tenth of the number who voted – have signed a petition calling for a re-run of the referendum. So re-joining the EU would be a vote winner for the Greens. With a leadership election currently going on, this will no doubt be raised.

5. At risk of stating the obvious, British politics is now in turmoil – if it wasn’t before. Cameron has resigned and we are facing a Conservative leadership contest – one which will be led by the pro-Brexit, right-wing of the party. The next two years will be full of tortuous negotiations. And the Labour Party are facing their own leadership election, with around half of the Shadow Cabinet expected to resign this weekend over Corbyn’s alleged lukewarm support for the EU and lack of campaigning during the referendum. Many believe it was Corbyn who lost the referendum – as someone perceived to be a long-term Eurosceptic. And he is now facing a very serious leadership challenge.

So while Britain is locked in a constitutional crisis – not least given the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted to remain in the EU – the main parties face their own internal crises, and struggle to come to terms with the ramifications for Britain’s place in the world, and their own visions for the future.

6. Another Union is breaking apart. Scotland and Northern Ireland are drifting away. Both voted strongly – by around two thirds to one – to stay in the EU. The UK is divided, and it appears we face (again) the prospect of the breakup of these nations.

Nicola Sturgeon pledge for a second independence referendum has already met strong support, support that is likely to be far higher than last time. Polls are already showing a significant chance of a pro-independence victory (although polls are arguably no longer to be trusted after Thursday’s vote…).

Either way, the consequences of Thursday’s vote are immense when it comes to the future constitutional state of the UK as a unit. And while Irish unification appears off the cards for the time being in NI, tensions are rising there too.

7. English (and Welsh) politics is moving to the right. The Brexit win has vindicated UKIP — who are not going anywhere, contrary to some expectations. With the Conservatives also moving to the right, the ‘centre ground’ has shifted. It is highly likely that many of the hard-won rights won through the EU will be torn apart — including many elements of the social chapter and key environmental protections and business regulations.

But Thursday’s vote has made me realise something depressing: England is actually rapidly becoming a conservative nation. This was a right-wing populist vote, led by reactionary forces and which will benefit and embolden reactionary forces. How does the left respond?

8. The left is, understandably, in a state of mourning. It will take time, but we have to to rebuild and recover. This is a defeat that is felt deeply and has knocked the left for potentially years to come back – but we have to start trying to now. And to get some ideological clarity in a deeply confusing post-Brexit context.

With Labour in turmoil (not least following Hilary Benn’s sacking), it is left to other movements and parties to begin the fight-back to the rightward shift that we will now likely see. And we must work with the social movements likeAnother Europe Is Possible, which campaigned for a progressive Remain vote, to do this. The left is in a poor place to fight the attacks on workers’ rights and environmental protections — but it is in our hands, and we have to get back on our feet and redouble our efforts as soon as possible.

9. We are still European. It’s vital progressive movements across Europe continue to keep their arms open to the UK. We have to keep working together cross-borders.

Of course, it will be much harder without the EU, but we have to try – the crises we face are international. But as a progressive movement, we must deal with them internationally, despite this huge setback: we are still stronger together, and have to keep working as such.

For now, we are lost and saddened. But we will do all we can to ensure the solidarity we had through the EU isn’t completely lost. We have to.  

The Yes campaign may have won the #indyref

Update: The SNP now look on track for 60,000 members after hitting 50,000 yesterday and now standing at 59,000 (as of 1pm Wednesday – no signs of slowing, either). They have overtaken the Lib Dems’ and UKIP’ total British membership numbers by a long stretch. Meanwhile the Scottish Socialists are processing over 2,000 membership applications and the Greens over 3,000 (plus hundreds more in England, too). 

The SNP’s doubled membership means that over 1 in every 100 Scots are now members of the party – a higher proportion than party memebership of ALL parties across the UK as a whole. A back of the envelope calculation puts the membership fees gained from the over 33,000 new recruits shows if they all paid:

  • The recommended fee – £5 a month: The party would rake in £2m in extra subs for the next year
  • The lower fee: £3 a month: £1.2m in extra subs for the year ahead
  • The minimum fee: £1 a month: £400,000 extra for the next year

That’s a lot of money (in addition to the tens/hundreds of thousands that will have been donated over the past week – genuinely). It’s also 33,000 additional foot-soldiers who have an experience of campaigning.

Something incredible is happening in Scotland – people are actually getting excited about democracy. Meanwhile a poll puts the SNP on 49% for Holyrood and catching up with Labour for the Westminster election next year. 

The article below was originally published at Left Foot Forward

With pro-independence parties seeing record-breaking membership growth, the indy camp could be the real winners after all

Who do you think won the Scottish independence referendum on Thursday? You’d probably have a fair claim to say it was the unionist campaign, winning 55 per cent of the vote.

But a few facts suggest that in the long run, it could be the parties that campaigned for independence.

Why? Over the past three days, membership of the SNP has risen by at least 14,000, nearly half of which joined in the 24 hours after polls closed. To put that into perspective, that was the SNP’s total membership ten years ago. They’ve now added that since Thursday night.

This now makes the SNP by far the largest party in Scotland with over 45,000 members – far more than both UKIP and the Lib Dems’ total membership across the whole of the UK. It’s also, according to a Green Party activist I spoke to, nearly four times Labour’s membership in Scotland.

It’s hard to even accurately assess the extent to which people want to sign up: the SNP’s website crashed on Sunday for two hours when 500 tried to join in one hour. There were fascinating stories circulating on social media – such as an extended family of 18 people simultaneously resigning from Labour to join the Nationalists.

This has to be a total rarity in modern British politics at a time when membership of the mainstream parties is stagnant or plummeting. People are, whisper it, actually getting excited about politics.

It’s not just the SNP that is facing this surge either. 2,500 joined the Scottish Green Partybetween polls closing and Saturday evening – a faster rate than the SNP. Earlier this year the Greens had just 1,200 members in Scotland, meaning in a few days they have doubled or more in size. The impact? They could end up with over dozen MSPs in nine month’s time; their highest ever.

It’s hard to fathom the impact that could have on politics north of the border. The combined membership of the England & Wales and Scottish Green Parties is now around half that of the Lib Dems nationally. They’re gaining ground, a fact reflected in the polls, too.

Even the Scottish Socialist Party has seen a minor revival, with another 600 members in the two days following the referendum.

I could go on. But the key issue isn’t the numbers here – as impressive as they are – but the issue of why, and what impact this could have on Scottish politics.

Yes Scotland shared a Facebook status pointing to the astonishing recruitment figures (it was shared over 2,300 times). Of the more than 1000 comments, almost all were from new activists. And many are deeply interesting.

One of the most popular comments appears to sum up the mood:

“I will not lie down and accept this result. I will not suck it up, and move on. Nobody achieved anything in life by rolling over and accepting the status quo. I will continue to hope for an independent Scotland in my lifetime. I’ve never really taken an interest in politics before this referendum, but today I’ve become one of the 4000+ people to join the SNP in the last 24 hours. We are the 45 per cent and we will not be silenced.”

Another:

“We lost the battle but were not losing the war.” Again: “Yesterday we cried, today we move forward with renewed determination to claim what is rightfully ours.”

All these reflect the fact that the referendum was not the end of the road, but perhaps the start of a process. Many were disgruntled with the BBC and the rest of the almost entirely unionist press, 70,000-strong allegations – however ridiculous – of vote rigging, and the apparent reneging on promises to grant further devolution just one day after the referendum.

But they were also impressed by the principled move of Salmond to stand down upon losing the vote, and the vibrant radical grassroots campaign which mobilised working-class people who had long been ignored by neoliberal politics.

Those activists are now becoming party political: “Now that there’s no referendum campaign to be involved in, these people, who have been politicised for the first time in many cases, are looking for some political activity to get involved in – they’re not going back to their sofas,” Edinburgh Greens’ membership secretary Mike Williamson told me.

They also, crucially, have experience of campaigning that will help them in next year’s election. Paper members they shall not be.

The vast reawakening of the democratic spirit in Scotland on the Yes side in the months running up to the #indyref suggests it is a political resurgence that will not go away quietly. We can laugh at the rhetoric of ‘We are the 45 per cent’ [the total Yes vote] – but the major party leaders may not be laughing come next year’s elections. Johann Lamont’s own constituency voted overwhelmingly for yes, after all.

With pro-independence parties all seeing record-breaking membership growth (and thus resource growth – finances and feet on the ground), it looks like the indy camp may be the real winners after all.

Don’t turn the AV referendum into a vote on the Lib Dems

The upcoming referendum on the Alternative Vote is an opportunity for us all in Cornwall to demand a fairer voting system. There is a great danger however that the referendum will become one on the Liberal Democrats, and indeed Nick Clegg, and not on a better electoral system – no small matter. Or there is the danger it becomes a vote on Devonwall, something it certainly isn’t. The result of the AV referendum will have no bearing on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act, which has now of course passed. Instead the vote on May 5th is a chance to ensure our MPs work harder for our votes, have majority support in their constituencies, while keeping out extreme parties such as the BNP; one reason why they are in the ‘No to AV’ camp. On the other hand, as welcome as it would be for socialist candidates to get elected, it isn’t particularly likely under AV or FPTP, so sticking with the current system isn’t going to help anyone on the left.

But the main reason I’m supporting the Alternative Vote on the 5th May is because, as a student, I want my first general election vote to count, and I want to be able to vote honestly, without having to vote tactically as many are under First Past the Post. Being both a young person and a (very left) Labour supporter in Cornwall, I’m firmly anti-Lib Dem. But this referendum is a once in a lifetime opportunity to revitalise politics. Students: vote Yes on the 5th May and make what limited power young people have – the vote – count.

One step forward is better than standing still.


[This is an amended version of a letter for the West Briton]