There have been so many strands arising from the EU Referendum vote, that my related blog-post promised to not only be several thousand words long, but as likely to be finished as George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice before Game of Thrones completes its broadcast version on HBO.
One of the reasons is time is a lot more difficult to find these days (hence the comparative silence these last months), and the last few months have been particularly problematic in this regard. My mother died just over 2 months ago, and that has entailed the usual catastrophic impacts that many of you will be familiar with, when ‘Major Life Changes’ need to be suddenly shoehorned into an already over-stuffed schedule. The last time I saw my mother in anything remotely passing for good health was in fact on the day of the EU Referendum vote, when I (unusually) was down at the polling booths for the opening of the polls, as I had a flight to catch for Munich later that morning. Unlike the Scottish Independence Referendum, I had not engaged mum in any conversation on the matter (in part because I had very little inclination to do so in the preceding year), but I had assumed that she would be an instinctive ‘Leave’ voter. Her EU (and other foreign policy) attitudes seemed largely to have been formed through latent wartime jingoism (“Why are they bossing us about when we knocked seven bells out of them during the war??”), having been 11-17 years old over the period of 1939-1945. This was confirmed secondarily by my sister, while we were starting to sort through the house contents earlier this month, and she recounted attempting to talk to her on the issue (‘would you still rather we were at war with Germany, then?’ ‘Well…’).
Demographically, her choice was – of course – depressingly unsurprising – she was well into the 65 and over category, 60% of whom voted to leave. Similarly she was part of the 73% of over 55s that voted ‘No’ two years ago (see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/09/21/morguetown-a-velvet-revolution-smothered-or-failing-to-get-into-the-second-round-of-a-tournament-on-goal-difference-again). (As a sidebar, it is interesting to note that the ‘pivot age’ in the Scottish Independence Referendum was 55 – the majority of those below voting Yes, the majority of those above voting No – whereas the ‘pivot age’ for BrExit was 45.)
Yet it is – of course – not as simple as a stark generational difference, a simple attitude that defines the World War Generation (or ‘Generation WW’, perhaps) on the basis of their date of birth, with an immutability akin to a geological age. My father, broadly of the same age-group, died just over ten years ago, but seemed to be very much at odds with my mother’s views on such issues of national identity. Perhaps this divergence was because although he lived through the same war, he had done so training in the Royal Air Force, so had seen the reality behind the marketing veneer of the ‘Britain’ that was being peddled to the populace back home. After the war, he had trained in finance – and that also might have influenced his views on issues not solely restricted to Scottish independence. For example, in the 1975 vote to ratify the UK membership of the EEC, father was shocked to discover that mother had voted against ratification. (Incidentally, for that vote, Scots voted 58:42 to ratify, which was dwarfed by England’s 69:31. As George Kerevan recently noted, times, it would seem, have very much changed since those days…) Similarly, as a lifelong proponent of independence (he once told me that he knew he wouldn’t see it in his lifetime, but hoped that I would see it in mine – fingers crossed, Dad, fingers crossed…), it is more than highly unlikely that Dad would have voted ‘No’ in September 2014, as she did. Given what Mum might have described as his ‘contrary’ nature to her, one might be tempted to predict that Dad would also have voted against BrExit: although he was no fan of how Europe had developed, I can see that he would have voted to stay in Europe if for no other reason than it clearly advanced the cause of Scottish independence.
Sadly, my mother would probably have enjoyed the now ‘socially-acceptable’ BritNat racism that is becoming as widespread as it is legitimised by being presented as part of today’s post-BrExit vote political mainstream: her declaration (after visiting South Africa in 1989) that apartheid was “a good thing, and they should have it in Britain, too” gives us little cause to think otherwise. I can imagine, if she had lived long enough to hear it, that she would have been smiling with satisfaction as the new Home Secretary’s speech was reported from the Conservative Party conference barely a fortnight ago – and it is unlikely that she would have even blinked when it was pointed out to her that registering foreign workers was re-enacting Chapter 2 of Mein Kampf. [Thanks, Amber Rudd.] To an extent that reflects that she is part of a somewhat lost generation, who grew up during wartime, when that form of racism was actively encouraged: it is after all far simpler for a government to sell an idea of being at war with an entire people, than with something as abstract as an ideology. But that is not to say – by any stretch of the imagination – that her attitude is universal within her demographic, and we should not therefore regard Generation WW as either impregnable or unsalvageable. Plenty of her age group did not buy into the xenophobic rhetoric of ‘Leave’ with such enthusiasm, are not off the social media grid (see https://50daysofyes.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/greys-psychology-inside-the-mindset-of-a-defeated-demographic/ ), and have allowed their attitudes to develop with the passing years, growing away from kneejerk, imperial-based BritNat racism.
So what lessons are there here for us for the future – if any? As much as it is clear that it is far from that entire demographic group that voted against independence two years ago, we can still see that the percentages show that it was the retired demographic whose emphatic ‘No’ vote overwhelmed the ‘Yes’ vote of all the younger demographics – ironically dictating a future for others that they themselves would have little to do with. I pointed this out to my mother when she started to object to the idea that 16-17 year olds would have the vote for September 2014: she grudgingly conceded my point, using her best ‘Kevin and Perry’ sulk impression.
In the 1979 devolution referendum, the Dead were infamously counted as ‘No’ voters (a Labour amendment, which Jim Callaghan later denounced as the reason for his government falling, had required that it was 40% of the entire registered electorate in Scotland – including those deceased who had not yet been removed from the register – that would need to vote Yes for a Scottish Assembly to come into being). In the event of the 2nd independence referendum, provided that the terms are the same as 2014, this will not be the case. In this connection, one rather harsh analyst observed in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum that with the passage of but a few years, the demographic that had opposed Yes so emphatically would become significantly reduced in number…as represented by people such as my mother: one less future ‘No’ voter to worry about, as it were. Those of the 2014 electorate who die before the next referendum are much more likely to be No voters than Yes supporters. But this does not mean that the resistance of that demographic to change will be in any way undermined: as you get older, you tend to be more susceptible to fear – and just as surely as the older ‘No’ voters will disappear with time, a new section of the population will start to enter that stage in their lives when – even although the Government’s pensions office made clear that a UK pension was secure in the event of an independent Scotland – they will still be vulnerable to the likes of Gordon Brown telling them that it will be at risk. Project Fear focused relentlessly in on Project Pension Fear in the last days…and won through, in no small part due to securing the (often postal) votes of the retired demographic.
Away from past wartime conditioning, we must do all that we can to ensure that next time the Scottish Independence Referendum comes around, Project Pension Fear is fought hard and bitterly, and not allowed to achieve anything like the kind of traction that it did in 2014.
“If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension…anyone who is in receipt or entitled to claim State Pension can still receive this when they live abroad, if this is a European country or a country where Britain has a reciprocal agreement they will continue to receive annual increases as if they stayed in Great Britain. If the country does not fall into the above criteria then the rate of State Pension remains payable at the rate it was when they left Britain and no annual increases will be applied until such times they come back to live in Britain permanently.” (Department for Work and Pensions, UK Government, January 2013)