There has surely never been a campaign as inept as the ‘People’s Vote’. As the hard Brexiters conclude their win this week, here is why this disastrous campaign was doomed to fail even when there was a majority in favour of stopping Brexit.


First published in January 2020.


There has surely never been a campaign so inept and ineffective as the campaign for a ‘People’s Vote’. Outplayed and outsmarted at every turn it was as if the whole campaign was designed to fail. Where the hard Brexiters had a simple clarity to their ‘get Brexit done’ message the ‘People’s Vote’ offered nothing other than a sort of half hearted ‘stop Brexit’, which required doing the whole miserable EU referendum all over again and hoping for a different result.

Not only did the hard Brexiters totally outplay the ‘People’s Voters’ their overwhelming success saw them secure the hard Brexit they always craved. So total has been their victory that they are now in a position to inherit the Brexiter bulls eye of a ‘no deal’ if the ‘deal’ eventually offered isn’t sufficiently hard enough for their insatiable anti European appetites. Where the hard Brexiters successfully recognised and manipulated the means to deliver their hard Brexit (the Conservative party) the ‘People’s Voters’ made next to no progress in having their policy adopted save from the hapless Liberal Democrats (of whom more to come).

Following the 2019 General Election the Brexiters victory over the ‘People’s Voters’ was total, brutal and absolute.

And it could have been so different. Following the surprise result in the EU referendum there was a stop Brexit campaign there for the taking. Stunned with their success the Brexiters were initially paralysed in knowing what to do with their prize. A minority UK Government meant that Parliamentary opportunities were aplenty and very quickly the UK public was coming to its senses in realising the scale of the mistake they had made. A solid ‘stop Brexit’ campaign from the outset could have derailed the whole project and strangled this disaster at birth. Instead what happened was that Parliament voted to trigger Article 50 on a three line Labour whip setting the clock to take the UK out of the EU in stone. Some of the leading lights of the ‘People’s vote’ incredulously voted for or abstained on this madness crippling any future campaign to stop Brexit that they themselves would seek to lead.

A campaign was required, one that would lead the increasing stop Brexit voice with a clarity of message uniting the UK in opposition to this disaster. And that is when the ‘People’s Vote’ presented itself in all its middle class, metropolitan horror. From the very first celebrity endorsement it was apparent to anyone that this was a campaign doomed to fail. Almost self congratulatory in its self-styled ‘People’s’ exclusiveness the ‘People’s Vote’ offered nothing to Leave voting communities save promising only to do this all over again. And the journey that it took us on in trying to win a rerun of the referendum was almost inexplicable. When challenged to describe what would be on a rerun ballot paper they hadn’t even thought through what the possible options would eventually be. Instead an imaginative range of barely credible propositions were presented in line with the ‘People’s Voters’ assessment of the current political situation. It even got to the stage that the vote they sought no longer became a stop Brexit vote and became instead a ‘confirmatory’ vote on the Tory deal. Worse than that they even started to support a ‘confirmatory’ vote without a clear option to remain. It was at this stage that I parted company with the whole exercise and broke the SNP whip to abstain against voting for this increasing nonsense.

It was just about then that the anti-Brexit UK public took the whole initiative into their own hands with the quite incredible revoke petition. This petition quickly became the fastest growing and most signed petition in UK history and seemed to totally stun the ‘People’s Voters’.

Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU petition. / Parliament UK

Could stopping Brexit now become a real feature in the campaign to actually stop Brexit? Well no, the ‘People’s Voters’ representatives in Parliament simply ignored this petition refusing to back the various revoke amendments that I and my colleague Angus MacNeil continued to put forward in Parliament. Revoke remained a forlorn and unloved concept even when the ‘Scottish case’ brought by SNP colleagues and others ruled that Article 50 could be unilaterally revoked by the UK Parliament. Bizzarely, only the initial founders of the People’s Vote concept, the Liberal Democrats, grasped the opportunity and became a party of revoke, only too late, and half heartedly. Stung by the criticism from their former comrades in the People’s Vote campaign they laughingly tried to hide from this new found policy to much ridicule and eventual electoral pain.

And yet the ‘People’s Voters’ limped on with no majority in Parliament and up against a Conservative party that had found its Brexit mojo. I don’t think that it came as a surprise to anyone when the People’s Vote campaign finally collapsed in acrimony consumed by its own contradictions before the final General election ignominy.

The anti-Brexit voice throughout this whole miserable experience could not have been more poorly served and let down. This failure was even achieved when nearly every opinion poll suggested that there was a clear stop Brexit majority just waiting to be properly led. A failure to provide any message clarity and a failure to try and secure an effective route to secure its ambition was only the start of the People’s Voters manifest mistakes. The lessons for the SNP are manifold and will have to take another piece to explain properly. Needless to say I had profound issues with the SNP going anywhere near this campaign and wrote about my reservations at length.

We are unlikely to see a campaign as inept as the ‘People’s Vote’ ever again and we can only feel sorry for the majority of the UK public who still oppose the UK leaving the EU. It is this majority who will now have to suck up the whole impending Brexit mess.

Out played and not up to it, the ‘People’s vote’ was simply the worst of campaigns.🔷


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[This piece was originally published on Pete Wishart’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 7 January 2020, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: Wikimedia/Ilovetheeu. - Pro-EU march for a People’s Vote on Brexit deal, London. | 23 June 2018. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)



     

THE AUTHOR

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SNP Member of Parliament for Perth and North Perthshire. SNP’s Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. Musician. Blog: https://petewishart.wordpress.com/

Perth, Scotland. Articles in PMP Magazine Website