Brexiteers triumphed in the EU referendum by persuading people that their problems were caused by Brussels bureaucrats and immigrants. When Brexit happens, we should all be worried about the backlash as it becomes clear this was untrue, writes Kenny MacAskill.
Get Brexit done is the election mantra, with Boris Johnson implying that all that’s needed is to pop his deal in the microwave and “Bob’s your uncle”. How glib and trite.
But tragically it’s even been echoed by Jeremy Corbyn arguing that he’d do it quicker and better with his renegotiations. Equally vacuous and false. Everyone, and especially them, knows it’s not so. Yet both are shameless in their evangelism of it as the solution to all our ills.
The tragedy is that it has resonance with the electorate. For some, it’s the deliverance of a democratic will but for many more, it’s a weary response to political exhaustion. They’re tired, fed-up and even angry. It seems to have gone on forever and they’re just sick of it.
Whether they voted Leave or Remain, they just want it over. It’s even seen here in Scotland though because of the constitution and other issues it’s less of a factor. But in England and Wales, it seems to have become the main focus in many parts, especially deprived areas which voted heavily Leave and are now the electoral battlefield.
Leaving the EU was sold there, all those years ago now, as the panacea to their ills. It wasn’t unemployment, the imposition of austerity and just being left to rot that was the cause of their woes. Instead it was big bad Brussels and its bureaucrats, as well as the migrants who came and apparently took their jobs.
That was played on shamefully at the time by Johnson and, sadly, not positively countered by Corbyn. It was allowed to take root with calamitous results and it’s still reverberating today.
False prophets of a new dawn
Both Labour and Tory are pandering to that simplistic view for their own electoral expediency. But what happens when the election’s over and neither popping it in the microwave nor quick renegotiations work? Who’ll be to blame then and how will folk react? For fail it will, in whatever shape or form, and people will be looking to take out their rage on something or someone.
The real causes of their misery will have been exacerbated, rather than alleviated. Poverty and misery will have been compounded as recession bites.
The “just about managing” people, who Theresa May targetted, won’t be keeping their heads above water as short-term contracts increase and other employment rights are lost. The social services that were supposedly under pressure due to migrants will be collapsing as skilled labour heads home, sometimes for better pay or just to avoid having their families live in an unpleasant environment.
The EU demon will have been slain but the age-old problems will remain all too evident, yet with even more bite. More worryingly, the false prophets of a ‘new dawn’ will have been exposed as frauds, the people’s gods will have failed. But those left disappointed may not be able to vent their spleen, as some of the charlatans have already skipped abroad and many more may do so. Others who preached the great deception will be insulated from them by their wealth or social status.
Anger and defeatism
But anger and rage will fester. For some, it will simply be defeatism. There’s nothing that can be done, the game was a bogey from the start. Many were subscribing to that view before being converted to the cause of blaming the EU. They’ll return to despair and despondency with an even greater belief that nothing can or will change for them. Often their pain will be internalised within them and their communities. Increased crime and violence and self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Deprived communities are the same the world o’er. For others, though, there’ll be a desire to continue the struggle but against whom and for what?
It’s a year since the Gilet Jaunes took to the streets in France. A strange phenomenon. Some left, some right, many more just nihilistic. They were poor and angry, left behind and ignored, and they reacted. Neither one of the largest Communist parties in the West nor the National Front even represented them anymore and certainly not a neo-liberal French President.
They weren’t the poor or migrants in the urban banlieues who’d erupted before but from small-town and rural France. Some may have been active in the past but many were not. Leaders were few and the organisation more organic than structured. But they were the outlet for the angry and dispossessed and they raged.
Those providing glib sound bites in this country, rather than solutions to institutionalised inequality, should beware of the anger they’ll provoke when their charlatanism’s exposed and all the people’s gods revealed as false idols.
Kenny MacAskill is the SNP’s general election candidate for East Lothian