8 things you may not have noticed about the UK’s EU Referendum.

There were several obvious aspects to Thursdays vote: Wales and Northern England are more concerned about immigration than we thought, London, N. Ireland and Scotland were all aligned in their opinions, and big cities with the most immigration – like Manchester, Bristol, Glasgow and London – are less worried about it than more rural or less cosmopolitan areas. But here are 8 things that you may not have noticed.

 

Boris wasn’t planning for a Leave vote, and his future is arguably less rosy now.

So, Boris won. We knew that. And Cameron has quit. Things look quite rosy for Boris, right? Well, arguably not as rosy as they could have been. His signing of the letter urging Cameron to stay as PM, shortly after the polls closed, was the final tactic of a very different path that Boris was planning. Preceded by a rousing speech in Tuesday night’s Wembley debate, Boris was following the SNP game plan. He was almost banking on a Remain vote, and by both showing his leadership qualities with the Leave campaign, and mobilising a passionate Scottish style 45%, he thought he would not only sweep to Tory leadership victory, but also to an unprecedented election victory.

The maths behind his tactics were simple. The SNP constantly now clear up in Scottish regional and Westminster elections, and they even use proportional representation to elect MSPs. By mobilising a passionate and loyal 45% in the UK, he could sweep most of the constituencies under his control, even in Labour heartlands, where 45% would almost always be enough for victory.

The Leave victory, and Cameron’s resignation, means he is odds on to still get that Tory leadership role, and arguably even a good stint as PM. But the path to success at the next election is now far less certain, especially when we have 4 years for voters to realise that leaving the EU hasn’t really helped things. Perhaps only a fractured Labour party can help Boris become an elected PM. More on all this later.

 

The SNP got exactly what they needed.

If you are shocked to learn that Boris was actually one of the night’s potential casualties, you perhaps won’t be as shocked to hear that Nicola Sturgeon is arguably its biggest winner. Sturgeon did just enough to walk the fine line she needed to walk, to get everything she needed.

She was never going to be a big loser out of the whole thing, but a UK remain vote would have slightly dispersed with pro-nationalist feeling, and arguably motivated a small pro-unionist togetherness. Not enough to sweep the SNP out of power in Scotland, of course, but almost certainly enough to lessen the call for an independence referendum in the next decade. After all, being the establishment in Scotland is not doing them any favours, as their slight May election slide showed.

What she ideally wanted was for Scotland to back the EU, but for turnout to not quite be strong enough to actually keep the UK in. As it happened, England also did her a huge favour, meaning a slightly lower than expected turnout in Scotland was enough for her to successfully walk that tight-rope.

Independence is back on the cards, a referendum is likely in the next two years, and only a fool would bet on Scotland to remain in the UK this time. Similarly, she now has a way to get some sort of offer from the EU for some deal on market access. Something which was very unlikely whilst the rest of the UK was in the EU. The only remaining worry they have is that pesky currency. But will worries about the Euro be enough, this time, to stop Scotland leaving the UK, when the pound has crashed? Unlikely. Things couldn’t have gone better for the SNP. She did just enough with talking about a 2nd independence referendum during the campaign, but never too much so as to persuade pro-unionists in England to vote Remain. The canniest party leader we have perhaps ever had in Britain has once again gotten everything she wanted, without anyone realising.

 

Farage has done the Conservatives a huge favour in the long run.

It’s no secret that Nigel is fairly closely aligned to traditional, right-wing conservative views. But in the last few years, he has almost single-handedly spun the Conservatives a useful – and perceived independent – shield from attacks coming from the left.

Labour – especially Corbyn and McDonnell – have been vocal in their opposition to austerity, and many areas of England would arguably be swaying toward Labour, were it not for Farage blaming these problems of austerity on immigration. Whipping up hatred toward foreigners is fairly easy to do, and coupled with distaste for the establishment, it has found him fans. Enough fans to steal votes from Labour in 2015 that made a real difference in a tight election contest. And now enough support to cover any attacks on Conservative austerity, papering over the weaknesses in the minority Tory government.

His speech on Thursday night – which seemed to partly be designed to distance the Brexit vote from Jo Cox’s murder – was a similarly sneaky tactic of keeping Labour voters from sympathy with their traditional party. Despite what seemed like anti-EU terrorism unlawfully killing one of their MPs. He may keep that Labour support, and coupled with his covering of austerity, he’s one of the key figures that can help create a majority Conservative government in the next election. Ironic for a man who claims to be anti-establishment.

 

Media balance is creating closeness where it is not legitimate.

No-where in the UK will you find any media outlet who will teach the controversy on evolution – no-one will dignify “creationist science” with that respect, as it’s clearly nonsense. Even capitalism, despite being a system of economics with many critics, receives absolutely no debate in 99% of the British media. Yet, even though economists of all ilks were united in their condemnation of a Brexit vote, and all the major political parties opposed it, the media gave it a 50-50 balance in coverage. Nigel Farage – a man who holds no elected role in our society – was even given a hefty share of the media coverage. Whilst economists who work for the IMF or other independent economic think tanks were given no place in any debate. That’s balance in no rational sense. If science were taught in a ‘balanced’ way like this, you’d not be reading this, you’d be living in a mud hut.

So although we like to call it ‘media balance’, it’s actually nothing more than media bias toward the side which is wrong, in any given debate.

It is perhaps no surprise then that two UK referendums in a row – first for Scottish independence, and then for EU membership – have gone from foregone conclusions in the early stages to close calls at the end, swayed at the last minute, due to this ‘media balance’. We may as well flip a coin on matters of national importance from now on, as any fear of foreigners, hatred of experts or even heavy rain may otherwise end up deciding our most important national decisions.

 

Anti-intellectualism isn’t only in the USA.

You may have noticed this one yourself, but while we were busy condemning the rise of Trump’s ignorant and anti-intellectual views in the US, we allowed Boris, Michael and Nigel to do the exact same thing here. Trump’s arguments are poor. He claims, days after a domestic-born terrorist commits genocide, that the key to stopping terror is stopping them coming in to the country. All clear thinking and honest people – which should be 99% of people in a good democracy – would be negatively influenced by such comments, as it’s not accurately solving even the current issue (stopping foreigners coming in won’t stop domestic born terrorists). Yet Trump’s rise shows American democracy is increasingly useless, anti-intellectual and non-progressive.

While we were busy judging, Michael Gove was telling everyone within ear shot that the British people have had enough of experts. And that the experts were wrong, because he simply knew it. We should have seen a huge swing toward Remain based on that alone, not to mention all of the other anti-intellectual nonsense we heard from the Brexit campaign. That we didn’t, does not bode well for our democracy. As the pound crashed on Friday morning, ahead of what will be a turbulent and damaging time for the UK economy – which every economist warned us about – Gove has already been proved wrong. That he will be re-elected at the next election does not make us look good internationally, as it shows we will elect people with absolutely no knowledge, expertise or foresight on politics or economics, to run our country.

 

Labour backbenchers are now one of the biggest roadblocks to Labour success.

Corbyn played this referendum very smartly. He knew he needed the support of people voting Leave and Remain at the next election, and thus made a less scare-mongered, more separate and rational case from Remain. He also tried to connect with Leave voters, by being honest and not simply full of praise for the EU.

Some backbenchers, however, who could not fail to be aware of this, have immediately tried to spin it to be a failure of him to ‘persuade’ Labour voters by not being a smiley, stereotypical Europhile. At a time when the Tories are divided, and the future uncertain, this was a big chance for Labour to be the party who understood the concerns of everyone. The backbenchers have offered a serious assault against their own party, and against the interests of the British public, by spinning it into yet another opportunity for Blairite self-promotion.

Even those Labour voters who are most critical of Corbyn must surely now see the problem these MPs are causing. Labour needs a new tactic, and it finally has one, and yet these MPs are providing the roadblocks to its success. Can Labour really defend a failure to re-select MPs given these circumstances? Some Labour backbenchers are not currently serving the Labour party, or its voters, and are now supporting a Conservative party which is gradually running the country down. Time is running out to stop them, and Corbyn and his cabinet must consider re-selection if election in 4 years is a serious goal.

 

Farage might be on his last legs.

We return to Nigel. Good old Nigel. This referendum was his baby, even though we kept refusing to elect him to fight it, and refusing to offer him the public’s backing to even be on the Leave side. Yet it’s his career’s pinnacle.

What we know from Scotland, however, is that the referendum doesn’t always do away with the group whose entire point is the referendum. He may thus go on to become an MP yet. But given the amount of problems he seemed to think were caused by being a member of the EU, and by the time of the next election we won’t have been one for two years, he’s got a fight on his hands. How does he excuse the certain failure of the UK to curb immigration after independence? How will he manage to reframe the problem as being non-EU immigration, when he’s spent so long fighting for non-EU immigration? And how will he steal Boris and Gove’s thunder, to win UKIP the election plaudits? How will his arguments about the NHS, education, housing and everything else look when these are all still problems when we’ve left the EU?

Smart money will be on UKIP winning at least one MP at the next election – maybe more – but fading out in the years afterwards, when Brexit doesn’t turn out to be having the magic beans effect that he has preached for so long. But even this is optimistic without a huge campaign. And does he have it in him?

 

It isn’t always obvious what the status quo is.

One of the clichés of election night nowadays seems to be the late swing toward the status quo. It happens in elections, though not always enough to save the incumbent government (just ask Gordon Brown). It also happens in referendums – I’m still not convinced that the offer of further devolution had any effect at all on Scotland voting to remain in the UK, more likely a late swing toward the status quo of the union saved the day.

But in Thursday’s referendum, we thought the opposite had happened. Surely the status quo was to remain in the EU, wasn’t it? Well, partly, but this one’s a little more complicated. For places like London or Manchester – places with lots of immigration – the status quo is voting to remain in the UK. And that’s largely what these kinds of places voted for. But for the UK as a whole, EU membership might have been the political status quo, but white, British born people are the cultural status quo.

The late swing in different places thus went toward what each area seemed to consider the status quo. Manchester and London swung to Remain, less well integrated areas – which is most of the country – went Leave.

This also gives us a nice insight we don’t always use when predicting elections. Places in the North of England might well consider Labour to be the status quo, even if the Conservatives are the government, and thus swing toward them, whilst the country as a whole might swing to the status quo Conservative government. We might see this become more and more important as the country becomes more fractured and divided.


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