And the Result is – Mass Disillusionment

Bella Caledonia, by Mike Small
27.05.19

So many things to try and understand from the European elections both across Scotland, across Britain and across Europe.

There’s some anomalies.

I love the idea, still being nurtured by journalists still lurking in the 1980s that Scotland is somehow “Labour Heartlands”. The scandal of European citizens living here and denied a vote seem to have lost in the mix, despite this being a national scandal and disgrace. And there’s a big question about why the vote didn’t turn out for the Scottish Green Party?

The European elections are being scoured for meaning. Is this a new mandate for independence? Does this mean a mandate for a hard Brexit? Does this mean a case for a second referendum? Does the green surge mean an increasing consciousness about climate change? The competing claims fight each other but the overwhelming victor has got to be mass apathy.  It’s an uncomfortable truth that, despite a small rise in voter turnout [to 39.7%, up from 33.5% five years ago], the overwhelming response to Thursdays vote was complete disinterest.

Since 1979 the turnout at European elections in the UK hasn’t managed above 40%. It’s been in the mid 30s for the last forty years.

This could be because this was for an election that wasn’t supposed to happen, to an institution we are supposed to be leaving. The idea that has crystallized in some other European countries  – that this is a fight to stop the far-right – hasn’t really landed here – after all Nigel Farage and Co are just cheeky populists, right? There’s also the idea that, despite the Brexiteer argument that everyone has been secretly obsessing about “Brussels Rule” for years and years, no-one bothered to vote in European elections before, so why should they now?

But there’s another more unpalatable possibility, and that is that the entire shit-storm of Brexit-Remainer propaganda has just soiled politics for millions of people.

From Labour’s endless triangulation and equivocation, to the Tories mismanagement and collusion to the dreary drum beat of media churnalism, lots and lots of people just treat this entire process with complete disdain. As everyone jockeys for micro-victories, the reality is most people are just deeply bored with maneuverings that seem to have nothing to do with their daily lives. I know, this is meat and drink to Brexitland and teeters on the brink of a sort of anti-politics nihilism. So we have the pitiless spectacle of Farage’s motley crew on the road to Strasbourg and Brussels to take part in an institution they despise, and for which they will pick up a pretty Euro.

But maybe we are now in the face of two competing ideologies that are not what we think?

One is a rampant and resurgent right-wing populism – fueled by a host of imaginary beasts – and another a whole section of people who are just so disengaged they don’t and won’t take part at all.

Do I see some possibility in the divergence between Scotland and England for my goal of independence, and the darkly comic prospect of [insert almost any candidate here] arriving anointed in No 10? I do. But this is almost completely irrelevant if 60% of people find politics as we understand it a meaningless exercise.

Today a gravestone was placed in a Debenhams doorway in Bristol in tribute to homeless man who died there. Pick any UK city and the story will be the same.

“He was homeless. Remember him” – reads the second makeshift gravestone in less than two weeks to be erected in Bristol City Centre in tribute to a person who died while sleeping rough.

This time, the message was for Adam Zaiac who died on February 5, 2018 outside Debenhams store in St James Barton. He was just 41-years-old.

It says: “He died in this doorway, as shoppers walked by.”

This is not intended as a maudlin puff-piece but as a reminder that not everyone’s a political obsessive and that whilst the constitutional war rages, the reality of social crisis goes on largely ignored.

“Brexit” – whatever this actually is – is masking an ongoing disaster for millions of people. And the self-satisfied, self-referential merry-go-round of media and politics and social media silos just seem a little bit sick and little bit broken.