Gary Paterson says it's important to understand the complexities behind the Leave vote in deprived areas of England
AS the country grapples with Brexit, many are seeking to understand not only the outcomes, but also the reasons for voting Leave.
In a broken economic system that favours growing national GDP over developing local and regional economies, the UK’s fracturing is not only constitutional. As Scotland seeks to maintain our place in Europe, we must take the evidence of the UK’s fractured economy and politics as further need to drive forward development to a fairer, representative, and outwardly looking economy.
In either outcome, the Scottish vote wouldn’t have made much of an impact on the referendum debate nationally, and all eyes were really on England to see if we would be dragged out or not.
The referendum further highlighted the democratic deficit and divergence in the different futures wanted by those in Scotland and the vastly more populous England. Similar socio-economic issues with other parts of the UK did not square with competing visions for our countries tied together in an increasingly unworkable union.
The referendum further highlighted the democratic deficit and divergence in the different futures wanted by those in Scotland and the vastly more populous England.
The debate had a different character in Scotland where the campaign could shamelessly discuss the positives and benefits of the EU, as well as the opportunities for developing Europe, but sadly this was and still is not the case in much of England.
While the vote was, in many respects, out of our hands in Scotland, it is worth considering the socio-economic issues underlying the prominent Leave result and the lessons that can be taken to develop a fairer and more inclusive economy.
Recently, Ricky Tomlinson, a strong working-class voice and activist, discussed Brexit on Channel 4 News, remarking that when he was younger jobs were aplenty in his area and that now you have generations of families who have never worked in Britain’s de-industrialised local economies, which is all true, but sadly where it is lost is in his summation that "we’ve let all the industries go" because the powers that be think "it’s cheaper to import" and that now the UK has to stand on its own two feet.
It's another case of a significant issue met with an unqualified and throw-away comment blaming the EU for our ills when the responsibility for our broken local economies lies right here in the UK.
It's another case of a significant issue met with an unqualified and throw-away comment blaming the EU for our ills when the responsibility for our broken local economies lies right here in the UK. Ricky’s view is not unrepresentative of many, particularly in the de-industrialised working-class areas of the UK where 74 of England’s top 100 deprived areas voted Leave.
However, this assessment fails to recognise the abandonment of the UK’s industries was not an EU decision but a UK decision, indeed you merely need to look at Germany and Austria to see manufacturing and industry is booming in the EU. So where did it go wrong?
Westminster economic policy was the same then as it is now: focusing on generating national GDP growth by investing in the south-east, and specifically London, further demonstrated since Brexit after the prime minister announced a raft of south-east infrastructure plans to 'boost' the economy.
The Tories gutted the geographically-balanced industries to focus investment on developing London as a global hub of finance;
The Tories gutted the geographically-balanced industries to focus investment on developing London as a global hub of finance; this may or may not have been successful for the UK’s economy depending on how you look at it but there is no doubt it created a two-speed UK economy where growth and development is centralised to London.
The irony is that there has been good work to counter-balance this within the EU by revitalising the communities and areas that were literally abandoned to chase national economic growth with its strong regional development that, as well as creating tens of thousands of jobs and funding thousands of projects, also has provided agricultural subsidy, infrastructure funding, research funding, and developing green economies.
These are all too visible in Scotland, as well as other parts of the UK, but receive less recognition and are often dismissed at large.
A shameless attack on immigration has soured political discourse in the UK and has created a visibly hostile and scary atmosphere against anyone 'not from here'.
A shameless attack on immigration has soured political discourse in the UK and has created a visibly hostile and scary atmosphere against anyone 'not from here'. The Leave campaign fuelled economic fears and capitalised on concerns about immigration, something which sadly is the new hot topic in UK politics as politicians of all sides urge a 'stronger stance' on immigration.
In many ways, this was the 'immigration referendum', with Ipsos Mori finding on voting day that one third of voters thought it the number one issue, and 45 per cent of voters believing Turkey’s 75-million population would soon be able to work in the UK.
Lessons must be learned from the disenfranchisement of the de-industrialised communities of England which voted Leave and must be considered as we work to develop our economy here in Scotland.
It is essential that we develop the economies beyond major cities and don’t replicate the UK’s mistake on a local level as noted in a Demos study on town-based economies in England, the IPPR highlights that in our services and retail economies we need investment in innovation, skills, and local economic development, and we should look to examples of inclusive economic models such as the example of the Finnish sectoral model, noted in a Commonspace report, to develop inclusive and localised economic strategies.
The reasons behind the UK Leave vote were more complex than 'poor areas voted out'
The reasons behind the UK Leave vote were more complex than 'poor areas voted out', however the Leave vote did find appeal in those deprived communities feeling disillusioned and abandoned; as we continue to navigate the Brexit jigsaw, we must heed the call for a better economy that sees value outside of London.
Among the challenges in English public opinion hardening against Europe and especially the movement of people, again Scotland does not find itself in the driving seat of its own destiny but at the mercy of UK politicians both unwilling to show bravery and stand up to promote the reality of a connected and open country, and still harbouring an institutional lack of recognition backed up in action for the need to develop an inclusive economy for all parts of society and the country.
Picture courtesy of Leena Saarinen
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