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Analysis

Where Scotland and Birmingham lead, Westminster must follow

by Luke Lythgoe | 08.11.2018

Holyrood backs a People’s Vote. So do the Birmingham, Belfast, Liverpool and Swansea councils – to name just a few. It’s Westminster that’s out of touch.

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament, representing 5 million people, backed a People’s Vote by 66 to 28. The motion was supported by Lib Dems, Greens and the SNP, and opposed by Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives. Most Labour MSPs abstained, though the party’s former leader Kezia Dugdale voted for a People’s Vote. Hats off to her for defying the party whip.

Will the National Assembly for Wales be the next national legislature to back a People’s Vote? A cross-party group of 31 Welsh politicians demanded a People’s Vote as far back as May, just a month after the People’s Vote campaign launched. Among them were nine assembly members and eight council leaders. The new leader of Plaid Cyrmu, Adam Price, is strongly pro-European.

Holyrood’s vote came hard on the heels of Birmingham City Council, which passed a motion to lobby the government for a vote on the outcome of Brexit. This is significant not just because Birmingham is England’s second largest city, but also because Birmingham’s narrow vote to leave the EU was one of the shock results from the 2016 referendum.

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The councils which have formally voted to support a public vote on Brexit are diverse. It’s not just London boroughs and other pro-European strongholds like Oxford or Brighton and Hove. Councils in towns that voted Leave – for example Warrington and Preston – are also represented.

There has been a big shift in public opinion in local councils since the referendum, according to a huge poll for Channel 4 News released on Monday. 105 councils which previously voted Leave now have a majority to stay in the EU.

The councils backing a People’s Vote are spread across the country: Aberdeenshire and the Highlands in Scotland, Belfast in Northern Ireland, Swansea in Wales, Liverpool and Knowsley in Merseyside, Trafford in Manchester, Slough and Milton Keynes in the South East, Cheltenham and Exeter in the South West, and Leicester in the East Midlands.

Although London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has backed a People’s Vote, none of the six new “metro mayors” have. If they don’t want to find themselves out of step with their voters, they should. A particularly powerful voice would be Andy Street in the West Midlands, a moderate business-focused Conservative and former boss of John Lewis. Will he emulate the decision of Birmingham this week, the biggest council in his region?

Although Members of the Scottish Parliament, mayors and councilors won’t have a vote on whether to give the people a vote on Brexit, they can help bring pressure on the MPs who will decide. Since they are in touch with grassroots opinion, Westminster should sit up and listen.

The word “elite” was removed from the second sentence and the excerpt on Nov 9

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Where Scotland and Birmingham lead, Westminster must follow”

  • What on earth is going on with Corbyn? Is he playing at some kind of secret long term strategy or is he simply out of touch? With all the evidence of corruption and lies during build up to the referendum vote how can he still refer to it as the will of the people? We have a mad woman running the country (into the ground) and a doddering old fool getting ready to take up where she has left off!

    He makes sense speaking about many things then he hammers down hard working (and well informed) MPs like Starmer, nudging them ever closer to the fed up and quit position.