Ignore those saying otherwise, Britain will vote Remain

‘Brexit’ and Cameron’s renegotiation of Britain’s  deal with the EU have dominated the news cycle for a good week now, and this has been accompanied by plenty of chatter in the commentariat about the prospects for the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ sides. If you are keeping track of this – believe me, there are better things to do – you would be forgiven for thinking this referendum is genuinely up-in-the-air. Ignore them. It isn’t.

To start with, Cameron’s so-called ‘renegotiation’ is an utter farce. All it addresses is the largely invented problem of migrants draining the welfare state. Countless studies have shown that it is not our welfare state which draws migrants to the UK, but instead our relative wealth, opportunities and, crucially, English being our first language. While I have no problem with British natives being first-in-line to receive welfare, the renegotiation does nothing to address the real problems of the EU. From the left, it doesn’t tackle the institution’s consistent bias towards privatisation and austerity, as we have seen in Greece, Italy and Portugal. From the right, it doesn’t repatriate powers over much of our law-making ability, and, in general, it does nothing to address the lack of proper democracy, accountability, the power of lobbyists or increasing federalism. But none of this matters, and here are the reasons why:

  1. The Leave Campaign:                                                                                       The main risk for the leave campaign was that they were always going to perceived as a lunatic fringe full of ‘little-Englanders’ and conspiracists. The Brexit campaign has responded to this with a spectacular lack of self-awareness, and filled the movement with just that. Prominent figureheads are Nigel Farage, the climate-change denying Nigel Lawson and, as of yesterday, George Galloway. The only credible and fairly well-known names backing the campaign are Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith,  Kate Hoey and Frank Field, but even the latter two aren’t major enough to carry real clout and are seen as on the fringe of their respective parties. Perception matters hugely, and no one wants to be seen as a narrow-minded, slightly weird racist due to their stance on the EU. This is made even more pertinent by the relative strength of the In campaign. They can pick up plenty of votes simply by saying, ‘Do you want to be here with all the major party leaders, business people and celebrities, or over there with George Galloway lapping milk from your hands?’
  2. It’s about loss aversion, stupid:                                                                 Even if the Leave campaign weren’t a bit of a mess, I would have no doubt that we would vote to remain. If there is one thing that decides elections, it is uncertainty and the fear it causes. So often in politics, people lose sight of this simple fact and start analysing every facet of the opposing sides’ arguments, but this is nearly always a waste of time. It was obvious to any serious observer of the Scottish referendum Better Together would win as soon as it became clear the Yes campaign didn’t have a plan for an alternative currency. People hold what they know dear to them, especially in a modern world gripped by uncertainty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   This observation was clearly documented by Kahneman & Tversky with their 1979 theory of loss aversion. Put simply, Kahneman and Tversky argued that people feel twice as much psychological hurt in losing something than they do pleasure in gaining something. When looked at through this prism, it is obvious that we will vote to stay, especially because the gains of leaving are speculative. Possible losses are trade, economic security and influence and national security. All of these are concrete, and translate into people’s fears for their jobs and lives. Possible gains, on the other hand, are speculative trade agreements with ‘the rest of the world’ and repatriating legal powers which few people understand anyway. Control over borders will be the only thing seen as a gain by many, but this will not be enough to trump the fears of the majority concerning economic well-being.
A cartoon mocking the ‘Out’ campaign in 1975. Little has changed today. (Credit to @Jacob4MK for the find)

Yes, Labour should run a separate pro-EU campaign

PoliticsHome today reports that the Labour leadership hopefuls are split on whether to be part of a ‘grand coalition’ arguing to stay in the EU with the other major parties or if they should run their own pro-EU outfit. The latest intervention comes from Alistair Darling, leader of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, who stated it would be a ‘massive mistake’ to shun a broader coalition.

Personally, I am a little surprised at Darling’s comments. While I have great respect for him as a politician, Labour’s participation in the ‘Better Together’ campaign is widely held to be one of the main reasons the party’s collapse in Scotland was so complete. It allowed us to be painted as the party of the established, Westminster elite sallying north of the border to bully the rebelling Scots. I remember cringing when I saw Ed Balls and George Osborne sat next to each other on Newsnight like old pals cheerily declaring that they would both block any currency union with the insurgent Scottish nation. By the end of the referendum campaign it should have been obvious to anyone that a torrent of bile had been unleashed and would be directed not at the Tories – the party who were already seen as beyond the pale – but the great betrayers: Labour.

Of course Labour should have campaigned for Scotland for to stay in the UK. I’m completely behind John Major in that the whole devolution agenda was a grave mistake for the union, and would only lead to the toxic nationalism and division we have seen, and I have very serious reservations about Labour’s increasing commitment to regional devolution, but more on that later. However, it would have been perfectly plausible for the party to run on a separate ticket from the Tories. They could have promised Devo Max, or stressed how a Labour government with Miliband rather than Blair at the helm was going to take Scotland seriously and restore prosperity to the region. Sure, it’s not the most formidable campaign, but it would have been better than just being part of a campaign that solely warned of the dangers of independence while attacking the SNP rather than actually offering positive reasons to remain. And yes, I know that Labour would have been attacked for ‘putting party before country’, but how much would that have stuck is debatable; and, quite frankly, if it would have saved us 25 seats or so I think we’d have taken it.

So now we fastforward to the EU referendum in – probably – 2016. It’s a year where we will have the Scottish Parliament elections, the Welsh National Assembly elections, the London Mayoral and Assembly elections and Local Government elections. UKIP will be looking to build upon their strong performance in the general election as well as the locals. Labour will be in their first year of having a new leader and trying to forge a new direction. It is quite clear that the party needs to put in a good performance, particularly in the first three elections, if they are to appear as a genuine up-and-coming force to be reckoned with in 2020.

Much as politicos are divided on why Labour’s defeat was so great, it is indisputable that part of the reason we suffered so badly was because we were seen as ‘the establishment’ by large sectors of the population. Even worse, these large sectors happened to be in our Scottish and working-class heartlands.

So we are faced with a simple choice. 1) We can have a new, fresh-faced leader lining up alongside David Cameron to tell the people they should vote no or they’ll lose their job while Nigel Farage rips into us for completely selling ourselves out to the Westminster establishment and having learnt nothing from the ‘ordinary Brit’ who sent us a strong message in 2015. 2) We can campaign to remain in the EU while also campaigning to reform it so it better suits said ‘ordinary Brits’ while the Tories tear themselves apart over which reforms, if any, will be enough to keep us in. Faced with these options, I know which one I’d choose.