I keep thinking about the Scottish referendum and how it was more than two YEARS of debate, working out details, cross-examination & talking it all through. A long, painful, divisive and often boring process, as my many Scottish friends and family will tell you. But undoubtedly a very thoroughly considered and vital one.
What did we get?
Certainly not two years.
David Cameron first announced an in/out EU referendum in January 2013 if they won the general election of 2015. However, as we all know, manifestoes often bear little relation to what governments actually do once in power. So no one paid it much mind. It certainly did not trigger a massive exploration of the issues in the general population.
The EU referendum did not start to become a serious proposition until last May.
Paraphrased slightly from Wikipedia (yes I know, not a source but it’s just dates):
“The Brexit referendum bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 28 May 2015 and it was approved by the House of Lords on 14 December 2015. It was given Royal Assent on 17 December. On 20 February 2016 it was announced by the Prime Minister David Cameron that the referendum would take place on Thursday 23 June 2016.”
Still, most people did not properly register that there was even going to be a referendum until that February announcement. So effectively, we had just 4 months to properly consider this enormous decision.
And since active campaigning using official funds didn’t start until April 15th 2016, for many people, the window to find out about the issues involved was actually closer to 10 weeks.
Compare that to Indyref where the referendum date of 18th September 2014 was announced almost a full 18 months before the actual date, although public discussion had been ongoing since January 2012, slow at first and then increasingly engaged.
But then Brexit was never about the whole of the UK and Gibraltar examining the issues and deciding what was best.
Because you simply cannot drill down into such a complex issue in that short amount of time. It is impossible.
And that is why such vitally important issues like what would happen to the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland in the event of Brexit were simply glossed over and ignored. No one had the time to process how things would actually WORK. There was no time to go over the details with a fine-toothed comb.
Over and over I heard from undecided people, ‘why are we being asked this, I don’t feel like I know enough about it, it’s all so complicated, how on earth do I decide what’s best?’
Not that anyone bothered to give us the nitty-gritty details.
Certainly there were public meetings and discussions in the press but there was no written and examinable plan.
During the Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish SNP government published Scotland’s Future, a document laying out how an independent Scotland would work and addressing issues such as finance, the EU, currency and other issues.
It was a 670 page document and published a whole 10 MONTHS before the referendum and it was meticulously analysed point-by-point by both voters and the press. It was very thoroughly put under the microscope and in the end found slightly wanting, mostly on the issues of currency and the ability of an independent Scotland to retain membership of the EU.
It was made abundantly clear to voters that it was a big decision and if they were going to vote for Yes For Change and risk destabilising their country, they had better be very sure.
In contrast, the Vote Leave campaign published one 16 page pdf manifesto on their website. Did you read it? I never even heard about it.
16 pages obviously isn’t nearly as many as 670, so clearly it wasn’t going to be as detailed as the Scottish document.
Then I looked at the thing and it’s all in VERY. BIG. WRITING. So I downloaded it. There are 1293 words in the entire document. That’s it. That’s all.
I read it. It does not mention Northern Ireland. There is no plan for Scotland. Indeed, there is no plan for anywhere or anything really. Just buzzwords, statistics that were called out by those much-despised experts for being misleading to the point of being lies and lots of racist dog whistles.
Should you wish to examine it yourself, it is available here: http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/our_case
In the briefing section of their website, there are 15 other sections on topics like fishing, security and finances.
Oh great, I thought, maybe there will be more detail here.
But no, they are much the same, full of assertions about how bad the EU is but with little to no detail about how Brexit would work in the real world.
I checked the Security page on the Vote Leave website. It is a whole 1474 words long and some of those are website navigation! And it doesn’t mention the border with Northern Ireland and how that would be treated in the event of Brexit. Not once.
There was certainly nothing that was in any way comparable to the Scotland’s Future document.
If the SNP had attempted a referendum with as little information as Vote Leave did, they would have been laughed out the door and eviscerated in the press. So why wasn’t Vote Leave?
In my view, voters were extremely short-changed in being given the tools to understand what Brexit would mean for them and their lives.
Of course it didn’t help that whenever possible consequences were brought up, the Leave campaign screamed ‘scaremongering’.
But they were able to get away with that lousy behaviour because there wasn’t time to ask the hard questions. The press couldn’t ask for clarification over and over again as happened during the Scottish independence referendum. There was no time to dig.
Farage, Johnson and Gove were never held over the coals by a press demanding a detailed and comprehensive Brexit plan as the SNP government were during Indyref. It there had been time for that, it would have certainly quickly become apparent that there was no plan and that it was all smoke and mirrors.
Because there was no real Leave Brexit plan other than, ‘right, that’s it, we’re off!’ — a fact that has been made abundantly clear since Friday.
You were sold a pig in a poke.
If you don’t understand why I’m banging on about Northern Ireland and the border, this is why:
And then you must read this excellent series of tweets for the more human angle:
If you voted Leave, you should have a good long think about why these possible consequences were not made extremely obvious to you beforehand. If you did know about the possible destabilising effects of Brexit in Northern Ireland but decided that your ‘freedom’ was worth risking the entire Northern Irish peace process and throwing your fellow Northern Irish Brits under the bus, I’m pretty sure I never want to know you.
And if you’re too young to remember The Troubles, take it from me, that not a part of your country you want to take back!
It’s as though we’re doing the entire process that Scotland went through but we’re doing it backwards. Have the vote first & THEN have the detailed ongoing debate about what sort of country we want to be afterwards.
Hate to tell you folks, but that’s the wrong way round.
There was also no plan for Brexit from the Remain side because this was simply never supposed to happen. David Cameron very clearly expected the country to simply rubberstamp a Remain vote.
He called this referendum for his own political advantage within the Conservative party. It was never about what was best for Britain and always about what was best for David Cameron and his control of the Conservative party.
He thought he’d found a clever way to shut up the bothersome Eurosceptics. Have a referendum, win, then forever be able to tell them, ‘oh too bad, so sad, the people have decided’ — boom, job’s a good ‘un.
The only plan was to win and then briskly move on.
5 minutes in the Commons — ‘you’ve all had your say, best thing for Britain but jolly good show and well done all, next business please.’
If you think that’s just my opinion, this is a quote from the Independant newspaper:
“In the words of his biographers Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon, the Prime Minister had three objectives when he called this vote: “to pacify Eurosceptic critics, neutralise UKIP, and take the EU off the front pages”.”
It was never about you or your country.
That Cameron expected a rubberstamp Remain vote becomes even more apparent when you consider the timing.
As soon as I realised the potentially terrifying outcomes for Northern Ireland, I found myself baffled by the government putting the vote so close to the big Loyalist marches on 12th July. As someone who briefly lived in Ulster during The Troubles, that seemed like such an obvious potential powderkeg to me.
Then I checked the House of Commons website.
The vote was last week because Parliament was in recess. The vote was timed so that it would not disturb other parliamentary business. That was it, that was the reason for the timing.
I strongly suspect that little to no thought was given to anything that surrounded it.
No consideration seems to have been given to the way it might derail the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, European and local parliamentary elections in May. I can’t speak to the other elections but I know that Holyrood and many Scots took it as a typically thoughtless Westminster insult that the referendum carelessly stomped all over their election time, including the purdah. They wished to examine their own country’s issues instead of being swamped by referendum drama.
No thought seems to have been given to the potentially volatile Euro 2016, which did indeed kick off with rioting from the English fans in Marseilles that included reports of explicitly Brexit-related chants.
And I would lay good money that no one in Westminster even remembered the Loyalists would be marching in Northern Ireland a mere two weeks after the vote. Because yes, the marches do still happen, you just never hear about them any more. That could change.
ETA on 1/7/2016
Simon pointed out in the comments that “the recess was scheduled specifically for the referendum, not the other way round; Parliament would in any other year have been sitting on the date.”
I’ve checked and this was the case. Which means they deliberately decided that this was the best time to have the referendum. Not sure that’s an improvement to be honest!
It gets even better though.
Parliament breaks up for its summer recess on 21st July & doesn’t get back until 5th September.
Yep, they’re all buggering off in a couple of weeks.
Think about the sheer unmitigated arrogance of that timing. Cameron’s absolute certainty that despite the complexity of the issues, they could win the Remain case in 10 short weeks and then all pop off on their hols!
Well, I don’t know about you but I can’t see this mess being sorted out in the next four weeks. I don’t mean Brexit itself — that’s obviously going to take a long time to negotiate and always was. I mean the fact that both the government & opposition have very visibly imploded over the last few days and left us floundering about in chaos.
This is why I no longer entirely blame Leave voters for this mess, although I certainly did in the beginning,
They voted according to the information they had at the time and according their own consciences.
It’s apparent that some had the vilest of reasons for voting as they did, and I condemn them. But many others had genuine unheard grievances that they were seeking to express, an anger that had no other outlet and that Westminster had steadfastly refused to hear, often for decades. Others sincerely believed that they were doing the right thing for our country. Or that things couldn’t get any worse and it was worth a punt. Others were convinced their vote didn’t matter (spoiler alert, it did!) or thought there was no way the threatened consequences could be real.
I do not personally think their vote was wise but I am prepared to accept that they were either doing what they thought was best or were very unprepared for the reality of the vote.
No, I am putting the blame firmly back where it belongs. On David Cameron and the Tory party for agreeing to this sham of a referendum in the first place and then executing it so badly and with such undue haste.
They ran it with the same blithe, unthinking, patrician arrogance that made them call it in the first place. Anyone who made the decision to call the referendum and then to run it in such a ludicrously short period of time is not fit to serve in public office in this country and they should hang their heads in shame. They ran a referendum under false premises and defrauded the public.
When they decided that a hastily called and badly organised referendum would shut up the Eurosceptics and scupper UKIP, the Conservatives did not care one whit about the possible outcomes for Britain of an actual Brexit. Which is why none of the potentially devastating issues were as deeply and rigorously explored as they should have been. Issues like the effects on medical research, university education, our economy, our standing in the world or the potentially difficult political situations that could result in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
They chose to open a giant can of worms and they did it for their own gain, not ours and most emphatically not in the best interests of the country.
The whole thing was a sham. They never cared about hearing your voice — they were only ever pretending to consult you. It was a big old con.
But boy did you ever show them!
Even if you agreed with the outcome or think it will all come out in the wash, we are demonstrably in a right old pickle at this precise moment.
Both the Conservatives and the Labour party are in complete disarray just when we need a steady calm hand on the wheel and both have dissolved into internal strife and leadership conflicts. Nicola Sturgeon was apparently the only leader of a major political party in Britain who bothered to prepare a strategy in case of a Brexit win. Expect her to come out well ahead while everyone else is still floundering.
Our international reputation is in tatters with our allies either laughing at us in disbelief or regarding us with horror and pity. We are a subject for worldwide mockery. And our enemies are rejoicing.
There has been an abhorrent upswing in racist abuse on our streets towards immigrants, Jewish people, Muslims and British people of colour and even white British born people who ‘look a bit foreign’. An MP was gunned down in the street and we may yet see more physical violence. It is beyond shameful.
The pound is still falling, today several banks had to stop trading their UK stock because it fell too quickly. We have just lost our triple A rating and have gone from being the 5th largest economy in the world to the 6th in a matter of days. We have lost more in 4 days than we would have paid in decades of EU membership. We stand to lose major companies and are certainly unlikely to attract future investment until things completely stabilise. Jobs will almost certainly be lost and a recession is being predicted. I have already heard of people who have lost contracts or opportunities where Brexit was explicitly stated as the reason. Others face losing their jobs because their funding came from the EU.
We are also probably looking at the break up of the Union. Scotland is extremely likely to leave the Union unless an acceptable federal solution can be found and quickly. The future of Northern Ireland and Gibraltar is currently entirely uncertain.
And those of you demanding that we respect your democratic decisions are the rankest of hypocrites if you do not respect that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar made equally democratic choices in the opposite direction and have the right to pursue those. If you think it’s acceptable to drag two countries and an overseas territory out of the EU against their very clearly expressed will, then do not dare pretend this vote was in any way about democracy for you.
We are facing months if not years of ongoing political uncertainty.
Yep, a whole blooming barrel load of pickles.
I hope it does all come out in the wash. I truly do. Apart from wishing no harm to come to others, I also live here and I don’t want to live in a turbulent unstable country. So I hope it settles quickly and that we find our balance. I hope we’re all OK, however this little island ends up looking in the future. I hope broken fences can be mended. Some good may yet come of it and I am open to that possibility. I think it was a disastrous idea but I hope you Leave voters were right and that in the end it turns out to be good.
In short, I hope we recover.
But most of all I hope we never allow our politicians to do this to us again.
Because however you voted — even if you were on the winning side — you should be angry that you have been so cynically and callously used in an attempt to achieve other people’s political gains. You should be angry that this decision was put in your hands without anyone providing a full and detailed plan that could be examined over many months of scrutiny. You should be angry if you realise that you were lied to. You should be angry that our country has been split down the middle and may yet split further, not for the good of the country but to further the ambitions of a tiny group of men and their quest for power.
So demand change. Demand rigour. Demand that our press and our politicians stop lying to our damn faces. Demand better.
Because you all deserve better, each and every one of you, whether your vote agreed with mine or not.
We are all so much more than meaningless pawns in this game they have played with our lives.
PS. This article is over 3000 words long, or two Vote To Leave manifestoes.