EuroRef Day + 1

Oh dear me. What went wrong? It all felt good on Leith Walk, campaigning yesterday afternoon for an IN vote. Maybe as many as 20% of people to whom I gave a flyer and had a brief word of encouragement were European nationals living here and unable to vote. It turns out Edinburgh was the highest vote for Remain in the UK, at 74%.

So what went wrong? – There are no easy simple answers but I’m offering two underlying causes of a generalised disaffection and alienation. One is the wealth gap. While austerity hits ordinary people in so many different ways, Iain Duncan Smith (architect of the failed social security system) and Paul Dacre (editor of the Daily Mail, which never misses an opportunity to pour scorn on the EU and bile on people who are different – people like refugees and migrants, gays and unemployed, you know the sort) collect their subsidies for their vast estates. And the gap is regionalised too – London, at least on paper, is prosperous, with these foreign oligarchs snapping up prime sites in the capital, while around the country the infrastructure decays.

Compounding this is that our elected representatives do not really represent us. Far too many of them are elected with well under 50% of their constituency votes. So the Conservatives form a majority in Westminster on the vote of about 37% of the votes cast. The SNP enjoys over 90% of MPs on 50% of the Scottish vote. This first-past-the-post system cannot be right and it must die. There are several good imaginative systems for electing more representative representatives. This city council ward, for example, was formed of three previous wards, so now we elect three councillors. A process of elimination produces the three with the most votes, and in this case they are from different parties. In the interests of their ward they have to collaborate. Excellent. But we’re not even talking about reform of the national voting system. Shame.

Leaving the EU does nothing to address this. They are matters for the UK to sort out. There is even less chance of doing it well while we are preoccupied with trying to sort out our relations with the rest of the world.

There’s an awful lot of dust to settle before we get a clear picture. Cameron is resigning – quite right, why should he do the Brexiteers’ work negotiating the deals and take the flak for his trouble? I don’t spare him any sympathy, though – he has been Prime Minister, and he should never have brought us to this pass. A second Scottish IndyRef? On the face of it, this is just perfect for the SNP; this is their precious “material change of circumstance” that was in their recent election manifesto. Looks tempting, but, as discussed in the last blog, we don’t govern by referendum. They appear to ask simple questions, but voters’ intentions are wider and more complex and referenda don’t really settle the matter in hand. The outcome of the 2014 IndyRef was not dependent on changes in circumstances, it was “for a generation”. Besides, it’s very complicated. Do we want a hard border with England? Now what currency would we be using? There are terms and conditions for using the Euro. Why would London agree to share sterling with a foreign country? These and other key matters would have to be nailed before calling another IndyRef. It’s hard to see how that works. Actually, this is just where Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t want to be, what with having a baying hard-core nationalist party membership to handle. What a mess.

It’s time for a return to Labour values: collective action and solidarity. The identity politics offered by UKIP and the Brexiteers and the SNP is seductive but in the end unprincipled and opportunistic.

EuroRef Day – 1

The day before – tomorrow is the big day, and I can only worry about what the situation will be on Friday morning. With many others, I am seriously depressed at the level of conversation. Basically, the Leave side, making its appeal to the heart not the head, has trashed any attempt at addressing serious issues and facts. In a clear blast from the Scottish IndyRef of almost two years ago, sober comments based on secure facts figures and forecasts have been met with “that’s just rubbish”; “they (the experts) are paid to say that”; “we can’t be lectured by unelected bureaucrats from Europe”, and “you’re just talking down our great country”. Their pitch is to “take back control”, which works well with people who have trouble with authority figures and with people who have not done well in the recent economic downturn. “Go on” they say: “your vote is stronger than the considered opinions of ten academics and professionals”. They are political adventurers with nothing to lose: “Let’s press this button (vote leave) and see what happens. Wheeee..!” As Jo Cox’s widower said, people throughout Europe are feeling unsettled and threatened, and there are plenty of cynical politicians happy to exploit them. We know where that led the last time this happened on a big scale, in Germany and central Europe in the 1930s.

Living standards in this country have been falling partly because the good days are coming to an end in the western world, and partly because of our own government’s austerity policies. Migration is a phenomenon in the entire natural world, not just a human or a recent thing. Migration is in pursuit of a better more secure life, whether forced or opportunistic. Our ancestors did it: look at the Europeanised Americas and Australasia. There are limits to what immigration policies and border controls can do. Leaving the EU doesn’t solve any of this. But it’s hard to persuade an insecure and anxious native population to recognise all this, far less to be generous. The Leave campaign has deserved the tag “project hate”.

Nobody pretends the EU is perfect and doesn’t need reform. It really can be remote, and in some important ways it really is dysfunctional. But it is a serious attempt by the people of a quarrelsome continent to learn to live together. The answer is not to walk away from it but to get involved more. Furthermore, a referendum is no way to settle the matter. See my earlier blogs and letters to The Herald on the subject: this is a failure of our well established representative democracy. This reduces constitutional decision-making to the equivalent of a medieval battle, or a cup final. Having become detached from the electorate (Jo Cox was and others are honourable exceptions), politicians have become field-marshals and cheer-leaders of their teams, preparing them for victory on a day. But we elect them to do the hard thinking, the hard talking, and the hard negotiating, and to make themselves responsible. Boring though it may seem, best results (that’s not always getting our way) come from dialogue, not from conflict nor from walking out the door.

Anyway, I’ll be out on Leith Walk and neighbouring streets this evening, trying to persuade the Remain voters to turn out tomorrow, and to persuade any doubters to vote Remain. Oh dear. Tomorrow is going to be a long day and a long night. I had a very bad feel about the IndyRef a couple of years ago, but it turned out OK. Maybe it will be the same this time. I just wish I could be happier about it.


I don’t know what they are going to call the film of Porno the book – they can’t give it the title of the book, who could ever Google that? “Trainspotting 2” is all I’ve heard. It’s a bit feeble, it’s clearly trading on past glories. Of course, it might be a good film, it might even be a very good film. It might hit a few topical buttons, like the first version did in 1996. Never under-estimate the genius of St Danny to be creatively original. And no doubt it will make all concerned a few dollars. But it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine it will make as many waves in the broader culture that Trainspotting did way back then. We’ll see.

Anyway, just the shooting of it generates quite a bit of interest round these parts. Have a look at what wow247 says about it, loosely relating it to my tour. It’s a must-do thing when you’re in Edinburgh. And here’s something similar in French. Faites-en comme vous voulez.

Meanwhile, there’s a good interest in the Leith Festival programme of tours (see previous blog or the Festival site or The Walks page here). I know on Friday evening they can’t accommodate us in The Dockers’ Club, but never mind, we’ll sit outside. It will be nice to see you if you can manage along.