Why did civil society sit out the referendum?

I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for the two weeks since the referendum result, the four months since the PM announced the date, and the year since a Conservative election victory guaranteed a referendum on the UK’s EU membership.

Now, given the number of dismayed campaigns I can see being launched post-referendum, I’m interested as to why more of civil society didn’t speak out during the campaign.

I work for a union, and it certainly felt to me that the unions were one of the few sectors speaking out en masse, with a few other campaigning CSOs doing valiant work (kudos to the environmental NGOs) and most sitting out the fight.

As a former charity head of campaigns I get that many charities were worried about the chilling effect of the lobbying act – and the astonishing guidance from the Charity Commission early on in the campaign didn’t help.

And I get that the official Remain campaign (Stronger In) didn’t always feel like it was making arguments that people wanted to associate themselves with.

But I do feel that a moment of reflection from civil society is in order. As we stare recession in the face and our friends who are EU migrants have their status in the UK threatened, should civil society have done more to either persuade people to vote Remain or turn out likely Remain voters?

It’s hard to escape the feeling that, given the implications of Brexit for those civil society should represent, that it should have.

(This post started out as an email to the excellent ecampaigning forum list.)

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