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.