The 2016 Remain campaign was one of the worst in Kenny MacAskill’s 40 years of political activism, he writes, and the ‘People’s Vote’ movement is repeating the same mistakes by ignoring the ‘left-behinds’ in UK society who struck out in anger and who blamed immigration for their situation.
Santayana’s maxim that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” sprung to mind when reading that Hillary Clinton was intent on running for US President again. Sure, she won the popular vote by a large margin but she lost in the electoral college and, more importantly, in many deprived communities across the USA. Her failure to connect with the poor and dispossessed and to understand their anger saw some deluded by the lies of Trump and others simply stay at home. Blame for the catastrophe that is Trump rests as much in her selection by the Democrats, as the Republicans’ acquiescence to a charlatan taking over their party.
Yet that mixture of arrogance and the simple assumption that defeat had nothing to do with her is being replicated here with the People’s Vote campaign. I voted Remain and support a People’s Vote – anything to stop the disaster that will be Brexit. I also fully accept that the electorate were lied to, and not simply with glib phrases printed on a bus offering simple solutions to an issue that plucks at the heartstrings.
The litany of falsehoods prattled out by those masquerading as leaders of a new direction seems endless, with the so-called simple switch to WTO rules the latest absurdity. There’s also growing evidence of malfeasance, whether by a foreign power or simply rich individuals using it as a cover for their further personal enrichment, replicating the House of Trump across the Atlantic.
However, let’s also not forget that the campaign for Remain was truly awful and that not all blame can simply be laid at David Cameron’s door. Of course, he has to take the rap for calling it in the first place, giving succour to those elements in his own party who had pursued it relentlessly.
His handling of it was spectacularly dreadful and seemed predicated on an arrogance born from his supposed belief in his own abilities following victory in the independence referendum. Tales have come out from the Remain campaign of him declining suggestions on extending the franchise as in Scotland to include either EU citizens or 16 to 18-year olds, either of which would have been enough to ensure victory. Other steps and guidance were also ignored that would also have made the difference.
However, seeming to think he could do no wrong, he entirely ignored how close he had come to defeat in Scotland. Instead it was Project Fear Mark 2, fronted by his partner in crime George Osborne.
The Remain campaign never gelled either side of the border, with neither a grassroots campaign nor a coherent message. A “cri de coeur” was made for the EU, yet for most people it was an organisation they neither liked nor respected. Soundbites floated over people’s heads and little was done to listen to, let alone engage with, those who felt the institution was the cause of their woes. It was a campaign tailored for the middle-class not the ‘left-behinds’.
To be fair, the EU’s not the institution it was meant to be and generating affection was always going to be hard. Many who voted Remain did so either reluctantly or whilst holding our noses. It was the consequences of a Leave vote – such as the empowerment of the hard-right – along with the belief that one day the EU could be made what it was truly meant to be that motivated many.
But it was still one of the worst campaigns – extending across all parties involved – that I’ve seen in over 40 years of political activism. Heads should have rolled for the failures. Instead the decision seems to have been made to get the band back together again, despite the fact that it was their dud chords that partly caused it. Those fronting up the People’s Vote, the backing bands in political parties and even the songs they sing sound remarkably similar to before, with neither the intention to change the profile nor inclination to vary the tune. Instead the strategy is simply to sing the same song louder.
There’s neither humility nor acknowledgement that maybe they got it wrong last time. Instead it’s all focused on the lies and deceit of the Leave campaign. But that’ll no more resonate in the areas that are marginalised this time than before. Even the SNP has failed to change its rhetoric or direction.
New voices such as Gina Miller are no different. I’ve met her and she’s admirable woman, but her policy is predicated on the harm to be caused to the likes of her – or myself even – with lost opportunities compounding the financial debacle. For those already suffering, those opportunities don’t exist anyway and their fears about immigration haven’t been addressed.
Immigration lay at the heart of the vote last time and having a coherent message about how Europe is the solution, not the problem, is badly required. Yet, even sensible arguments about the need for EU collaboration to tackle unregulated arrivals are ignored.
Most importantly, feeling the pain of those in housing schemes across the land who struck out in anger and for whom immigration became their focus is needed. Listening to them and addressing their fears is needed. But, the left-behinds are to remain the left-behinds in this new campaign.
Another vote may come and many might change their vote – under what they’ll see as duress – but that won’t change their hearts. Staying in the EU might be less bad but it’s still nothing that motivates them and certainly nothing that solves their plight. Their rage and pain at what has been done to them and what the future holds will remain unresolved.
Sadly, the Remain leadership is as delusional now as Leave was duplicitous was then. The critical issues remain unresolved and the problem simply kicked down the road. I’m for Remain but it requires to change.
It won’t come in America through Clinton but the likes of rising political stars such as Beto O’Rourke or Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and, likewise in the UK, it has to be new voices and a different way.