People’s vote march shows potential for left anti-Brexit voice 

When tens of thousands of people take to the streets you know you are dealing with a spontaneous movement writes Andy Stowe. This of course means that they might turn up with all manner of home-made placards saying what they think and prefer these to something that has been prepared for their benefit by small left-wing organisations. They might also be sporting an assortment of flags – from that of the European Union (EU) to the union jack, not usually seen at demonstrations organised by the left. 

And so it was on Saturday June 23rd at the protest in favour of a vote on the final Brexit deal, a position Socialist Resistance supports. This has led some on the left to take a sneerily dismissive attitude arguing that “Those who wave EU flags or even union jacks as some sign of progress really need to take a reality check.” They’d probably have made a similar point about the Russian workers carrying religious icons during the 1905 revolution in St. Petersburg. 

No one denies that the demonstration was big. Most press reports say it was in the region of 100 000 people, apart from those which refer to the small neo-fascist counter protest but don’t mention the main event at all.   

The real significance of the demonstration was not that its figureheads were firm anti-Corbyn members of the Labour right such as Tony Robinson, or even that it had some anti-Brexit Tories. It was that tens of thousands of people were saying that they reject the hard, English nationalist Brexit that Johnson and Rees-Mogg are fighting for. For many of them the EU represents freedom of movement and a rejection of the wave of anti-migrant racism sweeping Europe. It is only possible to discuss the downsides of the EU when you appreciate the positives that those demonstrators saw in it.  

Coming two weeks after the frightening appearance of a new coalition of the international new right, Ukip and street-fighting neo-fascists the left should be welcoming a demonstration representing what our enemies hate. It is true that Saturday’s demonstration was more white and drawn from more affluent sections of the working class and middle class than we would have preferred, but one can make exactly the same point about the demonstration in defence of migrants which Jeremy Corbyn addressed on the day he became Labour leader. It’s a weakness to be addressed but it doesn’t somehow make the event irrelevant. 

The Labour right is using the Brexit issue to attack Corbyn and, with a depressing inevitably, its house journal The Guardian is helping out with egregiously dishonest reporting of the demonstration with quips like “Labour’s position on Brexit was subject to critical chants from the crowd, who sang: “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?””, while failing to point out that he was in a refugee camp in Jordan. 

This makes it all the more crucial that those of us on the left of Labour who oppose Brexit, strongly support Corbyn and don’t feel constrained to regard his every word as holy scripture act to make the left case against this right-wing project.  

There are a few things we can do immediately. The Left Against Brexit has begun organising public meetings with people like the economist Ann Pettifor, Catherine West MP, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP and Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association general secretary Manuel Cortes. We can offer to help organise these locally with the support of  Another Europe Is Possible. 

Those of us who are in Momentum can try to use its laughably undemocratic structures to influence its policy by signing this petition calling for a members’ vote on whether to oppose a Tory Brexit and using that as a springboard for a campaign inside the Labour Party.  

The two opposing demonstrations on Saturday comprised people who understood what Brexit really means. The smaller was made up of racists, English nationalists and neo-fascists who are desperate to begin in England what Salvini and Orban have started in Italy and Hungary. The much larger was made up of people who want to avoid that. No one on the Labour left should need to think for a nanosecond which side of that argument they are on.  

2 Comments

  1. There was a third demonstration on Saturday. In addition to the Brexit demos in London, the BBC estimated that 15,000 marched in Stirling for Scottish Independence. Proportional to population of Scotland this was bigger than the march in London yet received virtually no publicity outside Scotland.
    It was the third such Independence march in the last few months, with an estimated 60-100,000 in Glasgow and around 10,000 in the tiny border town of Dumfries. Further demonstrations are planned in Inverness on 28th July, in Dundee (the most pro-independence city in Scotland) on 25th August, and culminating in a march through the capital in Edinburgh on 6th October. These demos indicate the potential for re-building the mass movement for independence we saw in 2014.
    But despite their uncritical support of the EU and its neo-liberal project, in line with the Liberal Democrats, Green Parties and many on the right of the Labour Party, the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) government in Scotland are refusing at this stage to back the campaign for a second referendum. It’s not difficult to see why. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU; a second referendum along the lines promoted on Saturday could see the same outcome – a reactionary Brexit programme given endorsement by English votes against overwhelming Scottish opposition. But the SNP also face the challenge that an estimated one third of their voters backed the Leave campaign, not because of a UKIP-style xenophobic reaction against immigrants – such sentiments are hard to find in Scotland – but because some of those opposed to rule from a Tory government in London are not in favour of what they see as rule from a Tory regime in Brussels either.
    That’s not to say it was wrong to vote Remain in Scotland. The vote was held on a UK basis with all votes counting equally, and the Scottish Socialist Party, following a detailed internal discussion, took the correct decision to call for a tactical vote to Remain in the EU against the UK xenophobic reactionary campaign from the likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. They rightly felt that there was no space for the ‘lexit’ (‘Left Exit’) campaign propounded by the likes of the SWP, Socialist Party and Morning Star and were proven correct during the campaign.
    Scotland voted overwhelmingly to reject the reactionary right’s campaign and this was despite the undemocratic nature of the electoral process in the Brexit referendum, where both EU citizens and 16/17 year olds were denied a vote that they have in all Scottish elections. Had the UK-wide electorate for the EU referendum been the same as that for the Scottish Independence referendum of 2014, there is a strong argument that on a UK wide basis the outcome would have been very different.
    However, the situation in Scotland has now moved on in the two years since the Brexit vote. Scotland’s ‘voice’ through its vote in the referendum and the Holyrood government is being obviously being ridden roughshod over by the Tory Westminster government; this is raising further the independence question and the possibility of a second referendum on that – ‘Indyref2’ as it is called.
    But a campaign by the SNP for independence based on an independent Scotland re-joining the EU, or a halfway house, such as the so-called Norway option of EFTA/EEA, would be a disaster for working class people and undoubtably lead to losing the independence vote and kill the prospect of achieving it for decades. The reactionary leadership of the EU and its member state governments have shown what their view of independence movements in small nations is, with total backing for the Spanish state’s suppression of the mass movement for Catalonian independence through reactionary anti-democratic measures that were supposed to have been defeated alongside fascism.
    The SNP are now advancing the notion of a neoliberal austerity-ridden Independent Scotland aligned with the EU, through their promotion of the recent report of the so-called ‘Sustainable Growth Commission’ that would drag Scotland massively to the right. Public assemblies are planned by the SNP to promote this neo liberal perspective for inflicting misery on the working class. Scottish Labour lambast the SNP but offer no realistic alternative, their own record in Holyrood, Westminster and local councils is thoroughly rotten and their opposition to independence is reactionary and mistaken.
    In Scotland the demand for a new or second referendum on Brexit is thoroughly misguided and instead the campaign must focus against the austerity of the Tory government in Westminster, the EU institutions, and the SNP ‘Sustainable Growth Commission’ proposals. The campaign we need is not for a Brexit referendum but for a totally different Scotland – a Scotland in which we can win independence based on policies for a socialist alternative to austerity and for ecological sustainability.

  2. “For many of them the EU represents … a rejection of the wave of anti-migrant racism sweeping Europe.”

    How so, when the EU itself is anti-migrant?

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