While the Chilcot report validates public outrage at the UK’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq thirteen years ago, the full consequences of Brexit have still to unfold. How will the future judge our self-inflicted constitutional crisis of 2016?
Michael Dougan’s devastating condemnation of the dishonesty of the Leave campaign – ‘dishonesty on an industrial scale’ – provides clear evidence of the need for rigorous examination of the process, content and outcome of David Cameron’s reckless referendum gamble. I sat down intending to watch just the first few minutes of his YouTube video and found myself held almost motionless until the last word.
In just 20 minutes Professor Dougan, of Liverpool University, an expert (oh that Gove-derided word) in EU constitutional law, demolishes one by one the lies and false promises of the Leave campaign. He ends by posing questions for the UK government and parliament which hold the sovereign power Britain seems to regard so highly. On one hand, he says, we have a democratically decided result, ‘albeit by a slim majority’ and we have to respect that vote whatever the campaign’s flaws and consequences. But large numbers don’t respect the legitimacy of this result because they regard it as having been procured through systematic dishonesty.
The question is: how far is it in the national interest to implement this referendum result?
His chilling conclusion: ‘Whatever happens half the country is going to feel that democracy has let them down’.
Despite Dougan’s complete demolition of the validity of the case for leaving the EU (‘If you are going to tell lies you have to make them big lies’), he cautions against Remain voters jumping to conclusions about Leave voters. That wise advice is born out by last night’s illuminating interviews with angry Sunderland Leave voters broadcast by Alex Thomson on C4 News. As he reported, it’s much more about alienation from a Westminster government – the arrogantly untrue ‘we’re all in this together’ – than immigration.
And, lest Scotland becomes too complacent, the Guardian’s Libby Brooks visit to ‘Marginal Moray’ reveals distinctly different but equally complex reasons for the relatively high number of Leave votes in the North East of Scotland, many by SNP members.
As Kezia Dugdale argues in what is probably the best speech of her young political life so far, ‘We have to understand why more than one million Scots took the risk of a vote to leave the EU’. It’s not enough for Remain voters like myself to harbour anger, resentment and (worse) a comforting sense of superiority.
In my work as a newspaper journalist I always believed it was important to make a positive case in any campaign to change life for the better. But sometimes, to quote the old English pessimist Thomas Hardy, we have to confront uncomfortable truths by looking inward as well as outward; ‘…if a way to the better there be it exacts a full look at the worst’.
The tragedy is that referendum vote provided the opportunity for a ‘roar of rage’ and the EU takes the blame for the UK’s homegrown inequality and relentlessly foolish imposition of austerity imposed by the rich on the poor. The outcome of the referendum reveals a glimpse of the worst; the risk of a perpetuating fear of ‘the other’ in the other half of the nation. It’s up to all of us to stop it becoming reality.