So, it’s happened. the UK has voted to leave the European Union. While the result was perhaps a surprise, it’s worth noting that the polls did actually show that Leave was in the lead going into the final day, with the “undecided effect” not really materialising for the Remain camp in the way that many pollsters and I expected.
Here are the final results from each part of the country:
Scotland, Northern Ireland and London were the only major regions of the UK to register a Remain vote, as the Leave camp managed to sweep through the heartlands of England and Wales.
How did this come about then, why was Leave the favoured option?
Lord Ashcroft conducted the nearest thing to an exit poll yesterday, surveying over 12,000 voters on their decision and the results make for some stark reading about where the campaign was won and lost.
Firstly there was a clear generational divide, with older voters being more likely to back Brexit but there was also a large class divide – with the C2 & DE groups being much more in favour of leaving. Here’s how it broke down:
However, with the referendum turnout being the highest for any UK vote since 1992, the real cohort that pushed Leave over the line were those disengaged with politics.
Of those who paid little to no attention in politics, 58% of them voted for Leave – which suggests that the Remain campaign completely underestimated their campaign strategy. They were the ones that had to convince people to stay rather than the onus being on the Leave side to win over voters, and ultimately that failed. All we’d ever hear in the media in recent years about the EU and another key issue, immigration, was negative and that attitude went almost completely unchallenged. Politicians failed to lead the country towards a more positive debate on these issues that could have changed people’s minds. The referendum campaign was too short in the end to convince enough people of the EU’s merits, which is another example of David Cameron’s myopic approach to solving political problems. All of this has come together in a perfect storm which hit Britain on Thursday and that’s why we’re headed towards the EU exit door.
The consequences of the vote are far-reaching and only deepen the constitutional divides that have gripped the UK since before the Scottish independence referendum. Already the value of the Pound has crashed to thirty year lows and the economic outlook given to Britain by the markets and credit agencies have been downgraded. This is just day two of a pre-Brexit Britain and already we’re feeling the pain.
There have been plenty other developments that on any other day, any other year would be the top story for weeks.
Each of these represents a major shift in the political culture in our country, even though some are more predictable than others, so let’s give each of them their due:
The Tory tribulations
Firstly, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his intention to resign by October – as he rightly believes he no longer has the mandate to lead the country into an EU exit.
The PM’s exit leaves the door open for a run to the Premiership by the other Tory top dogs, and right now it’s unclear who’ll take over. Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were the leading figures of the Tory Leave effort, and both have visions of taking over. The one person that could really be ruled out though is Chancellor George Osborne, who has been virtually invisible in the last few weeks and whose economic gravitas has been obliterated by the failure to get across the fact that Brexit will hurt our economy.
David Cameron’s leadership will now be remembered for his two major gambles on the UK’s future, with the Scottish referendum and the EU vote, and while he held on by the skin of his teeth in 2014 he’s been found out this time. The EU referendum started out as a vote-winning tactic to stop the flow of Tories going to UKIP, and while it may have helped them win office last year it has damaged the country immeasurably. The short-term look of the Prime Minister, as with many of his policy decisions, has failed us all.
It’s interesting when examining the Conservatives’ split over the EU how little of it chimes with their policy positions. For a party so concerned with a long-term economic plan, it seems a little strange that just over a year after their General Election win they’ve thrown the country into economic turmoil from which we have no idea how to recover.
It’s possible that we may be headed towards another General Election when a new Tory leader is in place, and in almost any other circumstances you’d imagine the opposition would take advantage, but Labour are having their own problems at the moment…
Labour’s own civil war
A coup has been launched by several Labour MPs to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader, with a motion of no confidence to be debated in the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting on Monday.
It’s opportunistic to say the least, but the movement to remove Corbyn from office has essentially been building ever since his election and with his relatively lacklustre campaigning efforts so far it’s given enough momentum to those who oppose him to make their move.
What stands in their way is likely not Corbyn himself, but finding a suitable candidate to replace him. I wouldn’t imagine fellow Corbynites like John McDonnell would want to go up in a leadership contest to succeed their friend, and the Labour ranks are bereft of real guiding talent, which is pretty much why Corbyn was elected in the first place.
I think times are tough for Corbyn but his political style has been too weak in dealing with them and he’ll find it difficult to survive for long in his job. A principled politician who puts forward real left-wing policies is definitely welcome, but if he can’t convince people to vote for him then it simply doesn’t matter.
Sinn Fein have called for a vote on both sides of the border in Ireland on a potential Irish reunification after Northern Ireland voted to Remain.
While perhaps the most left-field of the Brexit aftermath scenarios, Northern Ireland’s Remain vote has opened up the discussion of a reunification with the Republic so that their citizens will maintain their EU citizenship.
Northern Ireland’s divide has always been less about political policy lines than religious ones, and it’s hard to see that changing anytime soon – with the system of thought entrenched in the people of the province through decades of horrendous conflict.
It’s unlikely to happen, as the progress that has been made towards peace and stability in Northern Ireland is surely worth a lot more to the people and politicians of the UK and Ireland than further constitutional wrangling, but the very fact that it’s reared it’s head has to show how deep Brexit has permeated into British political life.
Scotland’s second chance
Finally, Nicola Sturgeon has announced the SNP Government have begun preparing legislation that would allow for the Scottish Parliament to hold another independence referendum.
A second indyref was always on the cards if the UK voted to Leave and Scotland didn’t, that was clear even in the days following the 2014 vote, but now Nicola Sturgeon rates the chances of another referendum as “highly likely” and that it would take place before the UK cut it’s final ties with the EU, which could be in two years’ time.
What remains to be seen is just how much the Brexit result will have an effect on support for independence. It will doubtless convert many, but whether it will produce the strength in support that the SNP need to be able to be sure of victory (and more importantly avoiding a second defeat) is the sticking point.
I want to see an independent Scotland, and I believe that now more than any time in the last decade we’ve got a real chance of making that happen.
On-the-whole then, it seems that although the UK has voted to leave the EU the only clear thing that seems to have come of it is that the next few years of our political lives will be dominated by fresh discussions on where our separate nations are headed.